These are bad times to be a government worker. That little bit about "retiring" early to get your pension while going back to work at the same job has been exposed. The "rubber rooms" in New York — where teachers too bad to be allowed in classrooms but not able to be fired were kept playing daily pinochle games — have been closed. Bloated bureaucracy is being blamed for the recession.
So I rise to make an unconventional defense of all this generosity to pencil-pushers. Not to defend them, exactly, but their spouses. Allow me to explain.
These jobs — at university towns, state capitals, government-rich cities like Seattle and Boise and Richland — are the mainstay of the creative economy. The reason: They provide steady household income, medical plans, and retirement nest eggs so that the non-bureaucrat in the domestic unit can go off and be entrepreneurial and creative, take a flier, or take time off to dream up a new company. Take away that security and these folks would have to take an ordinary job. End of the creative economy.
I first began to suspect this by visiting some of the smaller college towns such as Bellingham or Olympia or Eugene. You keep coming across people who can do what they love because the partner has steady, reasonably paid, benefit-rich government work. In places like Pullman, that means people can afford to do something they love, like farming, since the family medical plan is taken care of by WSU. I remember taking a lovely walk in Dusty, Washington, a town in the Cougars orbit, and coming on a farmhouse crammed with computer geeks working on an advanced program for selling hydro power — all thanks to the nearby benevolence of WSU, supplying interns, brainpower, and secure spouses.
Further, these steady, virtually tenured jobs are a balance-wheel to the local economy. Housing bubbles may burst, dot.coms go sour, but government is forever, pulling these little burgs through hard times by keeping the paychecks flowing. Not only that, government work is a wonderful up-escalator for minorities and many people with modest educations. Now these jobs are disappearing fast, with local-government employees down by 175,000 in the past year.
Be careful what you punish.
Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!