Michigan Governor Rick Snyder recently released his “Citizen’s Guide to Michigan’s Financial Health.” In it, Snyder attempts to make a connection between his state’s glaring financial problems and public sector salaries. Even taking into account his caveat about the comparison not being “apples to apples,” his intent in presenting these figures in this light becomes clear with a bit of context.
Snyder’s report claims that private sector wages and benefits declined 13 percent in the last decade, while public sector wages and benefits climbed 19 percent during the same period. If we accept these figures, a few basic observations can be made.
First, that these changes were relatively modest when averaged year-to-year, amounting to a 1.3 percent annual decline and a 1.9 percent annual increase, respectively. The gains were largely the result of contracted cost-of-living increases, made possible through the significant percentage of state workers who are organized. Even with these upward adjustments, annual gains by state employees were below the average rate of inflation of 2.4 percent over the last decade.
Clearly these are not large increases, and by framing them over the long term and without context, Snyder would appear to be intentionally misleading. He also fails to mention the logical connection between the falling wages of private sector workers and the state’s revenue problems, as workers making and subsequently spending less pay less taxes into state coffers. One might consider this decline as quite possibly major factor in Michigan’s continued revenue shortfalls, considering that public sector workers make up only 15 percent of Michigan’s workforce. These potential considerations receive no mention in the report.
However a more damning picture if Governor Snyder’s intent becomes clear when you consider the findings of a new report commissioned by the Center For State and Local Government Excellence and the National Institute for Retirement Security.
The highlights of the report include (emphasis mine):
Jobs in the public sector typically require more education than private sector positions. Thus, state and local employees are twice as likely to hold a college degree or higher as compared to private sector employees. Only 23% of private sector employees have completed college as compared to about 48% in the public sector.
Wages and salaries of state and local employees are lower than those for private sector employees with comparable earnings determinants such as education and work experience. State workers typically earn 11% less and local workers 12% less.
During the last 15 years, the pay gap has grown – earnings for state and local workers have generally declined relative to comparable private sector employees.
Taking these facts in to account reveals the real motive behind Governor Snyder’s targeting of public sector workers, namely that he is attempting to stoke resentment among workers generally for those among them who are better off. Considering that most workers, especially in Michigan, have seen their standard of living decline over the last two decades through outsourcing, downsizing and the general malaise affecting Michigan’s once vibrant manufacturing sector, this would appear, despite it’s undeniably deceptive character, to be a shrewd and carefully considered attempt to divide workers against one another for political gain.
In short, Rick Snyder is engaging in class warfare in an attempt to increase the already out-sized influence of capitalist values on political thought. One hallmark of these values is a relentless drive for profits, and a devaluing of human and social costs (if these factors receive any mention at all) relative to financial cost, and a clear emphasis on capitalist buzz-words such as “competitiveness” and “efficiency,” which are generally code words for reduced wages and benefits, job cuts, and the usual shifting of a state’s financial problems onto the backs of poor and working people. These ideas are also usually accompanied by tax cuts for the wealthy and both a reduction in regulatory protections for citizens and consumers, and a de-emphasis of environmental considerations.
I would urge all of Michigan’s citizens to view Governor Snyder’s attacks on the working class for what they are, and to join with their fellow workers in both the private and public sectors in resisting the Governor’s anti-worker agenda.