Today’s news:

In Defense of Public Service

If you torture statistics enough, they will confess to anything. Case in point: a report published last week in USA Today that carried the headline “Federal workers earning double their private counterparts.” It was accompanied by charts that showed federal, city and state workers receiving far more in salaries and benefits on average than their counterparts in the private sector. The report has fueled the fire of right-wing zealots.

The report was based on data provided by the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis. A chart accompanying the article showed federal workers making an average of $81,258 compared to workers in the private sector who earned an average of $50,462. State and local workers earned $53,056. When benefits were added in, the gap was even greater.

The charts themselves are misleading. According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, out of 136 million workers in America, 22 million work for federal, state or local governments. With a far smaller base to work from, it is not surprising that on average the government workers appear to make more. But the overall private sector workforce includes millions of workers in entry-level positions. To make a fair comparison one would have to look at the salaries of people doing comparable jobs. That would be a massive undertaking.

What is aggravating is that this report has become fodder for those who take pleasure in denigrating government and public employees. Talk radio hosts took aim last week at all government, with the possible exception of the military.

Government employees build and maintain our highways, teach our children, run our public hospitals and jails, maintain our public parks, feed the poor and house the homeless, haul away our trash and do thousands of other jobs that contribute directly to the quality of life in New York City and America.

The lies repeated by the far-right need to be challenged. Since the recession began, city agencies have faced repeated budget cuts. These agencies are staffed by dedicated public servants who continue to work under difficult conditions. These men and women play an important role in making New York a decent place to live.

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