Sunday, January 31, 2010

Baker/Tisei and the Public-Private Chasm

"Remember Charlie, Remember Baker." -- Billy Joel, Goodnight Saigon

Along with a half-dozen or so fellow Sam Meas supporters/staffers, I just attended the Baker/Tisei "kick-off" event at the VFW here in Lowell.

Both came off as polished speakers who had good things to say about fixing the mess on Beacon Hill. Two big feathers in Mr. Baker's cap are his track record with turnarounds -- first as Bill Weld's whiz kid back in the 1990s, and then again with Harvard Pilgrim.

One of the things he said that certainly struck a chord inside this author's rib cage related to comparisons between the public and private sector -- in tough economic times, the private sector workforce can take a tough thumping while the public sector chugs along or even grows. Specifically, Baker referenced Gov. Patrick recently filling 1300 vacancies in the State Government.

As someone in the hunt for a full-time job right now (thanks to some anticipated training courses being filled to quota and a mobilization getting 'bumped to the right') things look really good on the public side of the house and not so good on the private side.

If I had an MBA, or a JD, or a technical background (i.e. a specific skill like Accounting or Computer Science) things might be very different. In fact, the private sector might be offering double whatever I could command as a GS-11 or a GS-12.

However, I don't, and it doesn't.

So the private sector offers me entry-level type stuff that would MAYBE allow me to meet all my bills each month. But that's without even factoring in the "what-ifs" of car repair, new clothes, birthday presents to shop for, or pesky things that I always leave out of budgets like haircuts and car washes.

Meanwhile, in public sector country, it seems that my qualifications command about $30k more, which, when you divide by 12, sure makes the math work a lot better, with plenty of rainy-day contingency spoken for, not to mention those nice things people like to do, such as Roth IRA contributions or other long-term investments.

Here's why that ought to give the taxpayer cause for concern: The old tradeoff between public and private was this: If you work in the public sector, you're trading in your lower salary for the job security and benefits being offered by Uncle Sam. In other words, you were making a compromise.

Maybe this is just unique to the bad economy, to someone without an applicable advanced degree, or to a veteran who can get an automatic foot in the door on the govvie side, but at least through the eyes of this job seeker, there isn't that compromise. If you're going to offer me 40-hour weeks, great benefits, and robust pay, I'm not seeing the catch.

Things just seem a lot better in the public sector.

In the short-term, that's great for me, but can that really be sustainable in the long-term for the country?

I offer no numbers to back this up, but my hunch is to say 'no way.' The 'something' that's going to have to give is either going to be the availability, pay, pension, or benefits of public sector work.


Jon and Kate said...

Another shout out for the public sector: most of our great, non-cinema art came from WPA programs. Just started reading a bunch of WPA writing, not to mention And We Shall Now Praise Famous Men, is just awesome.

Daniel said...

Sure...the Public Sector is great. But we can't rely on it to be the prime mover in our economy, which is what Greg is hitting on in this piece. The public sector provides some continuity, regulation and facilitates the conditions needed for growth - but it shouldn't be the target of growth.

The New Englander said...

Exactly -- the public sector does great things on a daily basis and has done so throughout our history. It's great for some -- in fact, I feel drawn to it myself...but as a taxpayer in ANY bracket, you should be at least a little worried when a job seeker tells you that all the good jobs are popping up on the public side of the house. That can't keep up indefinitely, or we're on what Superintendent Chalmers calls "one helluva toboggan ride."