The letter writer was absolutely right. Asking a government employee to suddenly pay more – or anything – for, say, health insurance would be tantamount to a pay cut. Welcome to the world as most people know it.
In the private sector, especially during the recession but also before and after the downturn, here’s what some employees told us they endured.
▪ The end of a quarterly bonus program in which the employee made more when the company did. The mid-level manager told us he once had a five-figure quarter.
▪ A 10-percent cut in base pay. Granted, this private sector employee was making six figures, which probably doesn’t elicit much sympathy from someone making minimum wage. But try waking up one day with 10 percent less money to pay your bills. That’s what she did.
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▪ The end of company contributions to a 401(k) retirement plan. The implications here are many: The employees of that company will have less, perhaps substantially less, to retire on. We suspect too that the company will find it harder to compete for talent. Take two similar companies – one contributes fully to a 401(k) plan, the other contributes nothing at all. Which will find it easier to attract talent?
▪ Furloughs. Our memory here is shaky, but when Congress shut down the federal government, some agencies announced furloughs, or at least announced plans to furlough employees if needed. For many employees in the private sector, furloughs were standard operating procedure during the recession, not a one-time response to a revenue crisis.
We don’t begrudge anyone what they make in salary or benefits. But frankly, we don’t know why anyone in the public sector should enjoy better benefits than the taxpayers who pay for those benefits. The argument that public sector employees deserve better benefits because they earn lower wages is patently false; a Congressional Budget Office study showed that for all but holders of doctoral degrees, wages and benefits combined were higher for public sector employees than for their private sector counterparts.
We don’t wish a pay cut on anyone, but neither do we think that private sector employees who suffered wage and benefit cuts should continue to underwrite the full cost of public sector benefits.