I’d love to say this is an April Fools' joke, but it’s not. One of the guys from the office of New York State Homes and Community Renewal Agency—the office where the Albany 7 work—says he didn’t participate in buying the winning ticket for the Mega Millions jackpot because he didn’t have $2 in cash that day. Then he added, and I am not making this up, that he feels like he’s already won the lottery anyway because he has the next best thing: a government job. "I have a job with the state doing work I love,” Michael Kosko told the New York Post.
I’m glad he has a job that he loves. Many people don’t. What I find disturbing is that Mr. Kosko compares a government job to a lottery jackpot. Unfortunately, I think a lot of people these days think that a government job is their ticket to the good life.
Economist Stephen Moore writes in today’s Wall Street Journal that we’ve become a “nation of takers, not makers” because more Americans now work for the government than work in construction, farming, fishing, forestry, manufacturing, mining, and utilities combined. “Every state in America today except for two—Indiana and Wisconsin—has more government workers on the payroll than people manufacturing industrial goods,” Moore states. California leads the way with a whopping 2.4 million state and local government employees, and not surprisingly, has the highest budget deficit of any state ever. In New York, home of the Albany 7, there are nearly 1.5 million government employees, and they outnumber workers in the financial sector there by a margin of two to one. [Check out a roundup of political cartoons on the federal budget and deficit.]
The problem is that many of those government workers are in public sector, union-protected jobs with expensive health benefits and full pensions, promised to them by long-gone politicians who needed the union’s endorsement in yesterday’s elections. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 44 states and the District of Columbia are projecting budget shortfalls totaling $112 billion in the upcoming fiscal year. This is separate from larger, longer term costs that the states face relating to pension obligations and retiree health insurance for government workers.
When you consider the job security and guaranteed paycheck that most government workers will get for the rest of their lives—either on the job or during their retirement—you can understand why Mr. Kosko compared keeping his job to winning the Mega Millions jackpot. And when you consider the number of government workers in America, and the burden they place on the private sector and taxpayers—both in terms of regulatory reach and financial cost—there’s no mistaking the magnitude of the crisis we face. And that’s no joke.