If you analyze most mainstream media in how it portrays government workers in any given local area, most of the time either the workers are viewed as heroes or hoarders. It’s a good cop and bad cop divide between heroic, hardworking teachers, firefighters, or police officers who answer when asked what they make with an impressive, “I make a difference.” Let’s look at my town, Sacramento. Could government internships help to reduce this city’s high school dropout rate?
In the Sacramento metropolitan area, an estimated 7,100 students dropped out from the Class of 2008 at great cost not only to themselves but also to their communities. Perhaps if more high schools specialized in specific employment training with internships, such as working five days a month in the government sector, they might have a broader choice pattern to consider such as working for the government or the private sector, depending on whether the government wanted the student intern to see what government workers do.
Reducing the number of dropouts by 50 percent for this single high school class would result in tremendous economic benefits to the Sacramento region. You might also find helpful my book, Employment Personality Tests Decoded.
The likely contributions is that these 3,600 “new graduates” would make to their regional economy: This single class of new graduates would likely earn as much as $54 million in combined earnings in the average year compared to their likely earnings without a diploma, according to the article, The Economic Benefits from Halving Sacramento’s Dropout Rate.
When you look at how the media handles the culture of state and government workers in general, the attitude is envy and/or jealousy in much of the mainstream media. For example, Forbes magazine, June 28, 2010 ran an article, “The Millionaire Cop Next Door.” The media’s attitude appeared to almost begrudge or perhaps startle the average reader with the type of security and income opportunity, health benefits, perks, and pensions government workers make compared to those employed by private industry.
Salaries that appear in print somehow awaken the reader to the fact that according to the article, “It’s said that government workers now make, on average, 30 percent more than private-sector workers.” But the media goes on to report, in that article, that 30 percent is a fantasy that underestimates real figures. Now the reader is hooked and has to discover how much government workers really make, and whether or not when they retire, the answer to the question as to whether they are able to live in comfort rather than outlive their savings.
In short, the media emphasizes that government workers are American’s fastest growing group of millionaires. When it comes to Sacramento, a city of lots of government workers, the local media views this city as more like a Midwestern small town instead of a diverse California city made up of the digitally divided class of poor and upper middle class, with a dwindling middle class only one check away from welfare trying to reach for a piece of the pie.
On the other hand, the national media, doesn’t immediately analyze the middle class in depth. For here, in Sacramento the fear is palpable that at any moment cities and states will go bankrupt. Many Sacramento teachers have been laid off. Some have gone back to school to study nursing, where chances of employment may be better for the moment.
Those wondering how much cash will be drawn from principal during a lifetime of a government worker are glad somebody did the math in the comment section of the Forbes article’s online edition. For example, the comment notes, “If the $80k was an annuity than at 4% interest and a 25 year life expectancy for a 55 year old, it would be worth $1,250,000 not $ 2 million.”
So a government worker comments to correct the article’s conclusion that most government workers at retirement are worth $2 million. Whether you re-do the article’s math or not, the big picture is that Sacramento as well as the rest of the country values government works such as the police, firefighters, and teachers more than they value the work done by stockbrokers on Wall Street whose dream is to earn more than $300,000 annually.
For example, resentment in the media, even awe, at the $80,000 annual salary of a secretarial school graduate working for the government has been written about numerous times. See the August 13, 1998 Sun Sentinel news article, “Tripp No Example of Friendship.” Comments in the media brought up the fact over and over that Linda Tripp’s salary working for the government was a breathtaking $80,000 a year, the same at that time an average high school principal might earn, even though Tripp attended Katherine Gibbs Secretarial school after high school rather than a university.
Readers wondered how what was called a secretary in the 1990s and is now dubbed an administrative assistant would earn that much when in private industry, most secretaries were making around $10 an hour for typing and shorthand duties. And the average secretary for a large corporation back then usually earned a top salary of $32,000 a year.
Today, no one gasps at secretaries working their way up the ladder in government jobs to policy analysts whether they have college degrees or secretarial school diplomas. In the 1990s, media reports and readers became envious and even jealous of the fact that Linda (Carotenuto) Tripp, a native of Morris County, New Jersey graduated from high school in 1968 and went to Katherine Gibbs secretarial school.
If you follow her career, just in terms of earning an $80,000 annual salary in the 1990s, Tripp found a job at the White House during the first President Bush’s term and was kept on when the Clintons moved in by Jan. 1993, then was transferred in 1994 to work in the Pentagon.
When you look at the June 28, 2010 Forbes article in comparison just thinking about $80,000 annual salaries for government workers, the article notes that police and firefighters earn around that salary (and without going to secretarial school or passing typing tests with fewer than two typos). So the moral of this story is a salary of $80,000 a year hasn’t changed much from more than a decade ago for government workers not necessarily needing a college degree to get a foot in the door of a government job.
The Forbes article is alerting readers to look at the millionaire ‘cop’ next door. And readers are commenting in the media that we need to address the size of pensions for city, county, and state government workers.
What do retired federal workers really earn? Perhaps it’s a fully funded pension. For government workers with a college degree in accounting and perhaps graduate work, you could get to manage a $1 billiion budget as a controller by working for the government. It looks like a more secure job that being a stockbroker trying to make cold calls to clients or selling securities in a recession.
But, for those lucky to land a government job, it’s more difficult to get fired so quickly. On the other hand, for less secure jobs with perhaps higher healthcare insurance premiums you’d have to pay, by working at a similar job in private industry, perhaps you might have have made considerabley more than the $130k you might make when you retired with benefits.
Benefits are the reason why a lot of people envy government workers. If you’re dirt poor, you may think: there’s only two kinds of people: those who work for the government and those who wish they did. And if you have a liberal arts degree and can only find minimum wage jobs or less, or a little part time work, the fantasies increase as in the song, “If I were a rich man.”
To the unemployed English teacher with a master’s degree who can’t get a high school teaching contract or community college tenure and had to work at low wages as a teaching assistant because he or she didn’t pass the math part of the CBest (due to inability to learn math), your dream job might be working for the government because of the retirement perks. The media portrays the millionaire government worker next door as becoming that way by getting an annual pension payout from saving half his or her annual salary and investing it, after taxes to build more than a million dollars. The reality might be that government workers make on average 30 percent more than private sector workers, plus the net present value of their pensions. Invest that. But, the media asks, “how long can this last?”
There’s a rebuttal to the media stance in the Forbes article. Commentary alerts the reader to look at all of the government workers who are in low paying adminstrative jobs and do not have huge pensions. Why do all of the private workers that Rich supports so much have no pensions?
It takes a retired controller who used to work for the government to stand up to the Forbes article and question the media with comments such as, “It is because private industry decided in the early 80’s to shift retirement responsiblity from themselves to the workers via the 401k.”
The astute sharpness of readers also recommends that you read Jacob Hackers book on how private industry reduced their obligation to their employees by elimininating the pension in favor of the 401k. Comments in response to the Forbes article from a reader is detailed, factual, and precise. The commentary points out that “Wall street destroyed the value of the 401k through risk taking to make enormous profits while destroying the value of the 401k that private industry created.”
The big picture is that mainstream media blames government workers. But mainstream media usually itself is an insecure job, at least in the way it appears to those working for mainstream media, in some cases. Government workers don’t want to be blamed. They pass the buck to what the Forbes commentary response to the article calls, “greedy corporate America who reduced pensions and health benefits from their workers by reducing their retirement costs through the use of the 401k.”
Most readers who don’t work for the government might wish they did work for the government the moment when a lot of private corporations took away their pensions. Or offered them buyouts small enough so they’d outlive their savings. What some readers want from the mainstream media here in Sacramento is for the media to quit telling them how to invest. But other readers have no idea on how to invest and do want input from local or national media. And many people want to learn how to invest locally, in Sacramento.
The big issue in media and culture is who gets to shift responsibility to the workers? Who has the power? And sometimes responsibility is confused with telling people how to invest. The solution to this problem is education. And in Sacramento there are classes that train people in how to invest.
Where are the classes that teach Sacramentans responsibility as workers regarding the topic not so much about “The Millionaire Cop Next Door,” but more on how not to outlive your savings when your employer stops paying your health insurance premiums or you find out in old age that you were never offered a pension because you never were offered a teaching contract.
Sacramento is fast becoming a city of two classes of people: the rich and the poor. Diversity also is in the media with low-paying niche publications for specific interests. And those niche publications are operating on neighborhood budgets. Sometimes people love so much what they do for a living that they carry invisible signs saying they’re willing to work creatively for slow food with a fast-food government. Tell that to all those government employees recently laid off in Sacramento. See the article, Sacramento County Preparing To Lay Off 300+ Positions – cbs13.com.
What Sacramentans envy most about retired government workers is the perceived high pensions they receive and wonder whether they deserve it. If they worked as police and firefighters, teachers, or emergency service workers, they risked their lives daily for their pensions. Some government workers have more stress than others. Compare policy analysts to psychiatric technicians to police officers to teachers in hardscrabble neighborhoods to firefighters and finally, to the military.
Are pensions a way to compensate workers for the job stress that causes them to age more rapidly? Do doctors wonder who has more long-term work stress, government employees or similar job descriptions in private industry? Who has more control over their job duties–government or private sector employees?
For example, in some California cities, emergency service workers who retire at 50 can get 3 percent of their highest salary times the number of years they have worked for the city, according to the Forbes article, which names Carlsbad, California in the magazine article’s examples of annual city employees’ pensions.
Should the media really care what government workers earn before or after retirement? Or should the media focus instead on who’s screening food, healthcare, and the newly homeless?