The Agenda

Another Reason to Reduce Public Employment Levels?

Public employees suffer from markedly higher levels of injury and illness than their private counterparts. Steve Malanga is careful to note that the difference in injury and illness rates holds true when we make apples to apples comparison:

Some of these higher rates might be attributable to more dangerous jobs in the public sector, especially public safety jobs. And indeed, the BLS’ detailed tables do show much higher injury and absentee rates for workers engaged in “justice, public order and safety activities.” But even construction workers working for local government have a much higher rate of injury and illness (9.5 caes per 100 workers) than private construction workers (4.0 per 100 workers). So do public school education workers, who record 4.9 injuries and illnesses per 100 workers, compared to just 2.2 per 100 among private education workers.

As Malanga suggests, this could reflect the fact that public workers “enjoy more generous sick time and richer disability benefits than private workers.” But if we embrace a less cynical interpretation, this would seem to be a strong case for shifting more public employees to the private sector, where they will prove far healthier and safer.

Money isn’t everything. Leading a healthy and injury-free life is, for most of us, a high priority. The next time someone asks you why you’re so keen on reforming staffing levels so that we only have as many public employees as we need to maintain high-quality public services, perhaps you shouldn’t lead with a desire to save money. Lead instead with your desire to keep as many American workers healthy and safe as possible. 

And while we’re on this subject, Malanga has an excellent post on surging public employment levels in the two decades before the crisis. The human toll in terms of increase in injury and illness rates from the enormous expansion in the number of public school teachers is particularly troubling to contemplate.