Wall Street Journal Duo: You’re Not Working Hard Enough

by Steve Kreisberg  |  December 21, 2012

Steve KreisbergIn the spirit of the ancient Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu, whose formula for success in battle included the phrase, “know thy enemy.”

Meet Andrew Biggs and Jason Richwine.

They are right-wing bloggers and pseudo-researchers who appear regularly on the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal, hawking a plethora of anti-public employee theories. Most recently, they’ve claimed public employees “underwork.”

Biggs and Richwine [Editor’s note: “BigWhine” for short] have created a cottage industry for themselves by misusing and cherry-picking data for the sole purpose of denigrating the work and compensation of public employees. They say silly things like public school teachers make 52 percent more than they would in the private sector. Their “research” showing that teachers have less academic qualification to teach than other college graduates was so shoddy, their own right-wing think tanks banished it from their websites.

Biggs received fame, but not much fortune, as the advocate of former Pres. George W. Bush’s failed proposal to privatize Social Security. If the country had followed his lead in 2005, our economic losses would have been virtually incalculable when the stock market collapsed in 2008 and 2009. Fortunately, AFSCME members rallied nationwide and shut down Bush’s scheme.

Now this less-than dynamic duo is using data from a relatively new and obscure data set compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics to bash the public sector. The American Time Use Survey is a purported measure of how Americans spend their time.  Although they have not fully revealed how they have performed their analysis, Biggs and Richwine concluded that public workers spend about 5 percent less time working per year and, therefore, the loss of 627,000 public sector jobs since the official onset of the Great Recession really has not affected public services.

They must not get out much.

AFSCME members across the country report significant problems from reduced public services.  Whether it’s closed libraries or reduced hours in Jacksonville, Fla. or  Seattle, Wash., and all points in-between or unsafe staffing levels in correctional systems in Iowa, Illinois and virtually everywhere else, the public and the workers who serve us are feeling the pinch. There are fewer cops on the beat, longer response times for fire and other emergency services, and increased class sizes in our public schools. Parks are closing, arts and sports programs are ending.

While Biggs and Richwine may want America to embrace Mitt Romney’s call to reduce the number of police, firefighters and teachers, the American voters rejected that approach on Nov. 6.

Right-wing spin aside, the real danger is that our political leaders are now focused on an austerity program that will likely reduce economic growth by 1 percent in 2013.  As we’ve seen in Europe, a reduction in public services and employment has profoundly negative effects on economic activity and quality of life. Note to BigWhine: our nation’s problem is not that we have too many public workers, it’s that we don’t have enough people working.

Steve Kreisberg is AFSCME’s Director of Collective Bargaining.

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