How much DO they make?
A California Public Policy Center (CPPC) study published this year has both raised eyebrows and been decried by an Orange County Employees Association spokesperson as a “politically motivated attack on public employees and unions.” The report, entitled “Irvine, California – City Employee Compensation Analysis” details exactly how much public sector employees in the city earn, including not only salary, but also benefits like health coverage, retirement, and more.
The California State Controller summarizes compensation data on its Government Compensation in California website, but that data is fairly one-dimensional. It only includes wages, while leaving out other aspects of compensation, and it also includes all part time employees in the average. These statistics are widely cited in press releases and news reports, and that is part of the reason the CPPC has sought to clarify and add to the data.
Using the state’s methodology, data indicates that the average wage of employees of the City of Irvine is $48,506, and that the amount spent on total wages per resident per year is $337. The CPPC removed the data of people who were not employed the entire calendar year, those who were classified as part-time (including city council members, their assistants, recreation staff, and interns). In addition to base pay, it factored in benefits like retirement and health coverage, overtime, and other payments. The data was broken down and explored in detail, and then overall compensation was calculated.
Using this methodology, the average total compensation for an employee of the City of Irvine in 2012 was $143,691, and even base-pay increased to an average of $95,751 when part-time and part-year employees were factored out. This comes out to $507 per resident, and $634 including firefighters who are paid for by the county. When Jennifer Muir, spokesperson for the Orange County Employee’s Association, called it a “politically motivated attack,” she also accused the study of “shifting focus away from the discussions that matter most, that private industry employees are being under compensated.”
While idealistic, to suggest that it’s economically feasible or sustainable to provide similar compensation to all employees is severely misguided. In fact, calculations show that if private workers received the same compensation as the average Irvine public worker, paying full-time employees alone would consume 108% of California’s economic output. The end result of that, of course, would be increased prices, leading to inflation.
The difference between public and private sector employees is that private sector employment is governed by the free market, with some intervention from the government and unions. Any increase in compensation beyond free market governed numbers will lead to increased inflation and unemployment. To a certain extent, this can be justified, or at least argued to be justifiable, but suggesting that private sector employees should earn comparable wages to Irvine employees is nothing short of reckless.
CPPC’s numbers give a much more accurate account of public worker compensation in Irvine than the government’s website does. Paying public sector employees so much is financially reckless, and can put the city in economic turmoil later on. With Detroit’s recent declaration of bankruptcy, the end result of such policies cannot be trivialized. Financial realism leads to a higher quality of life for everybody than the utopianism which drives these unjustifiably high public salaries.
Or, doesn’t a city owe its people anything?