The Left likes to read a lot into statistics about earnings. Most notoriously, the statistic showing that working women on average earn less than men is always heralded as evidence that women are still treated as second-class citizens. In reality, when factors like industry and number of hours worked are taken into account, the wage gap shrinks, leaving just a few percentage points separating men and women’s earnings. This doesn’t mean discrimination never happens, but it paints a very different portrait of how fair our society is overall.
Here’s a wage gap you’ve probably never heard about: Democratic members of Congress pay their staff more on average than Republican members do. A recent Roll Call report found that the offices of Democrats spend about $55,000 more a year on staff than Republican offices, and thirty-seven of the fifty biggest spenders are Democrats. Liberals may claim this extra staff pay is a virtue—it shows that Democrats are more generous with the people who work for them. But conservatives would rightfully counter that, once again, Democrats are being generous with taxpayers’ money.
Reading the staff salaries described in Roll Call reminded me of the term “public service,” which is so commonly used to describe government work. This was a constant theme at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, where I attended graduate school. The extremely liberal faculty and school administration would intone about the noble decision to dedicate oneself to “public service” by working for the government.
Certainly there are people working in the government who are doing it for all the right reasons and are underpaid. The average FBI agent makes less than $64,000 a year. The average fire fighter, $44,000; police officer, $49,000; and the average solider, less than $40,000. These men and women who are taking significant risks for our country deserve a raise.
But many working desk jobs in the government certainly aren’t making much of a financial sacrifice in “service” to our country. And, in fact, especially once you consider promised benefits and job security, the average government worker makes more, sometimes much more, than the average worker in a regular, private business.
The American government should pay its employees fairly. We want to attract smart, hard working women and men into government jobs to help shape our nation’s laws. We shouldn’t expect those working on Capitol Hill or in our agencies to accept salaries that are below what they could earn in the private sector.
Yet the rhetoric around “public service” is out of touch with the reality of most government jobs. These are good jobs that many, many Americans would feel very fortunate to have. Some are underpaid, but there are also a whole lot of government workers—particularly in the hundreds of government agencies that have dubious value to begin with—who work cushy hours for wages that are far beyond their actual value.
This narrative matters. The business community often gets a bad rap, but it’s worth remembering that businesses are all in “service” to the public—and if the public doesn’t like the service or think that a business provides enough value at the right price, then it will go out of business. This effort to build an enterprise that successfully fills a public need is certainly its own kind of noble calling and deserves just as much respect as those working for Uncle Sam.