It was less than twenty years between the time that President John F. Kennedy challenged us to “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” as an invitation to join government service and President Ronald Reagan’s dicta that “Government isn’t the solution, government is the problem” and government and government workers have been vilified by conservatives ever since.  The latest foray into proving that Federal Government workers are the evil spawn of Satan comes the latest Cato Institute “study” declaring that government workers are so undeserving of their wages – compared to the private sector – as to be a crime against humanity and all right thinking people.  The Cato Institute is a conservative think tank founded in 1974 as the Charles Koch Foundation so it’s no big surprise that their mission is

 To originate, disseminate, and increase understanding of public policies based on the principles of individual liberty, limited governmentfree markets, and peace.[2]   

With a conservative flavor of course, which is perfectly legitimate.

But what is not legitimate is how the Institute reached the findings of their study as follows:

The federal government employs 2.1 million civilian workers in hundreds of agencies at offices across the nation.1 The federal workforce imposes a substantial burden on America's taxpayers. In 2015 wages and benefits for executive branch civilian workers will cost more than $260 billion.2

Since the 1990s, federal workers have enjoyed faster compensation growth than private-sector workers. In 2014 federal workers earned 78 percent more, on average, than private-sector workers.3 Federal workers earned 43 percent more, on average, than state and local government workers.4 The federal government has become an elite island of secure and high-paid employment, separated from the ocean of average Americans competing in the economy.

Spurred by the large budget deficits of recent years, policymakers have trimmed the growth in federal wages. In particular, they imposed a partial freeze on federal wages from 2011 to 2013, which saved billions of dollars. To find further savings, policymakers should turn their attention to the generous benefits received by federal workers. They should also reduce the overall size of the federal workforce by terminating and privatizing programs.  
The latest employment figures show that there are 149 million persons working across the U.S.  So to be clear, Federal Employees even at the Cato Institutes’ 2.1 million civilian workers amounts to 1.4% of total employment.  1.4%? Damn!  Given all the animosity towards Federal Workers somehow 1.4% doesn’t seem like a large enough army to take over Rhode Island much less the entire United States.  But I digress.
But let’s look at the Institute's claim that in 2014 Federal workers earned 78% more, on average, than private sector workers.  First it would help to know the characteristics behind the figures since any well structured study controls for data anomalies, outlier statistics, and ensuring that the two cohort groups (Federal Workers vs. General Population Workers in this case) are being contrasted and compared on a similar basis.  You know, comparing apples to apples and not apples to giraffes. 
Well wouldn’t you know it, there seems to be just a couple of data anomalies in Cato’s three years in the making study.  In the first place, according to the U.S. Bureau of the Census, in 2014 68% of the American population over the age of 25 did not have college degrees.  In the workplace, only 29% of private sector workers had college degrees while 45% of Federal Workers do.  The Congressional Budget Office has similar figures:  33% of Federal employees work in professional occupations (e.g. science and engineering) but only 18% of private sector workers do.  Also from the CBO:  21% of the Federal workforce have a master’s, professional or doctoral degree compared to 9% of private sector workers.  So given that it’s still reasonable to assume that college educated folks will earn more than their non-college educated peers, even though it is fashionable among the right wing to declare that one doesn’t need a college degree these days, is the Cato Institute against higher pay for more educated workers?  Seems a tad bizarre to me. 
Then too, the three years in the making Cato study (BTW not the first time such a study was produced that last being in 2009) cuts off it’s data pool at $120,000 salary per year.  But if you check out the Bureau of Labor Statistics data (BLS WAGE RATES.) you will find, for example, that the median wage for “Marketing Managers” is $137,400, for “Financial Managers” $130,000 and “Computer and Information Systems Managers” is $136,280 so cutting off your data range at $120,000 will skew your results.  Now I don’t know how many Marketing Mangers, Financial Managers and Computer and Information Systems Managers there are in the Federal Government but I have a hunch that there are way more in the private sector.  Also, the BLS category “Chief Executives” has an annual average mean salary of $180,000 and I’m betting that there aren’t many (any?) Federal employees with this title.
Now let’s assume that the Charles Koch founded Cato Institute (“Individual Liberty, Free Markets and Peace”) didn’t purposely skew their study in order to show that the Federal Government “isn’t the solution, but the problem” – no wait a minute.  That’s exactly what they were trying to show.  Okay.  Let’s posit then, that a study, i.e. research, data collection and analysis in an attempt to analyze a discrete phenomenon, ought to be designed to capture a realistic picture of the condition under study.  And this is precisely, by selectively choosing to delimit the data under analysis, what the Cato Institute does not do. 
I mean, come folks. Your offices are right here in DC, at 11th and Massachusetts, Ave. so you know damned well that your average Federal Job requires much higher educational attainment levels than your average private sector job.  And given that you have delved repeatedly into proving how bad government is and how bad welfare is, how inefficient is
government, you ought to have run into the fact that Federal Government benefits – health care, vacation, sick leave, retirement programs - are pretty much standard for all Federal Employees including your 20 year old secretary/receptionist with a high school diploma and the office services guy with a two year certificate unlike folks who work at McDonald’s and Wal-Mart for $8 an hour who cannot even dream of such benefits.

I’m pleased to report to you that this time the boys at the Cato Institute didn’t get away with their biased study (it’s been flagged online, in the media, the NYT and in WashPo) showing how all those evil Federal workers are just living lives of wanton luxury compared to their private sector slugs.  No guys, they are not.  But if they were, you could say that your average Federal employee – unlike your average private sector worker – has spent more time and money, expended more effort and sacrificed to become more educated so that he or she would actually qualify for higher salaries.   Don’t know about you, but this seems to be right in line with Reagan’s other famous line: “Personal Responsibility and Individual Initiative.”  And it looks like Federal workers are proof that, in fact, such foresight, hard work and dedication to achieving the American dream really can pay off. 
Finally, and I am compelled to ask this:  Is it genetically impossible for conservative think tanks to produce professional studies that aren't so biased as to render them just so much propaganda?  

Apparently Not.  
Have a good day!


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