A Tale of Two Americas

During his failed presidential bid, John Edwards (remember him?), frequently spoke of “two Americas.” This was supposedly a metaphor for the “haves” and the “have-nots” for whom he was fighting. While his populist rhetoric did not resonate with enough Democratic voters to get him the nomination, Edwards does have a point. The problem is that the “two Americas” are not rich and poor, but government workers vs. private sector workers. One group is doing quite well in the current economic downturn while the other has seen drops in salaries, job losses, and overall living standards.

The Rio Grande Foundation has done a great deal of work on the issue. See opinion pieces here, here and here. Unfortunately, as commentator Paul Jacob points out, the gap between public and private sectors continues to grow. As Jacob writes:

A recent Rasmussen poll shows a stark difference. Government workers see the economy getting better, while those in the private sector see it getting worse.

Different perspective or different reality?

Well, during this economic downturn, 6 percent of those in the private sector have lost their jobs, while public sector employment has dipped only 1 percent.

Stuart Varney with Fox Business News says, “If you’re a government worker, you don’t lose your job. You have a very rich and generous pension. You have a very generous health care plan. . . . You’re protected from the real economy.”

He also points out that, “[T]he three wealthiest counties in America . . . are all suburbs of Washington, DC . . . full of very well paid government employees and lobbyists. They are the beneficiaries of a great deal of taxpayer largesse.”

In a column for the Washington Examiner, Michael Barone notes that unions overwhelmingly support Democrats, contributing $400 million in the last cycle. Union members account for only 7.6 percent of the private sector, but a whopping 40 percent of public employees.

This leads Barone to conclude that there is a partisan interest in protecting public sector jobs. He writes, “In effect, some significant proportion of the stimulus package can be regarded as taxpayer funding of the Democratic Party.”

Whatever happened to “we’re all in this together”?

If you are interested in arming yourself with information on this problem, Scott Moody will be discussing the issue of New Mexico’s bloated government workforce at an RGF-sponsored event on Tuesday, January 12. More information is available here.

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