As if dealing with the many known enemies of government workers is not enough, state employees in New York now also have to contend with the old gray lady herself, The New York Times. Declaring that it was neither anti-union nor anti-worker, the editorial page recently set out to assess whether New York’s state workers have been overpaid — and lo and behold it discovered that they are. Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants to freeze the salaries of state employees, but The New York Times soberly cites numbers showing, it says, that the governor “may need to go further.”

What are the numbers, then? “The average salary for New York’s full-time state employees in 2009 (even before the last round of raises) was $63,382, well above the state’s average personal income that year of $46,957,” the paper noted. There is nothing wrong with the numbers, but putting them together, side by side, suggests either that the editorial board of The New York Times does not know that you must compare apples to apples or that it does not know what the words per capita mean. (In either case, this is perhaps evidence that the private school system is also in need of reform.)

The first figure is the average salary of a state employee, and in a family in which both parents work full time and for the same pay, the combined income from salaries is $126,764. The second figure is the personal income per capita, which means that if personal income were distributed equally, every family of four in the state of New York would have had an income of $187,828. It is clear, therefore, that the incomes of the families of state employees do not come even close to the average family income and, as a matter of fact, neither does the pay of the vast majority of New York families. In 2009, median income for a family of four in the state was only $82,587. Both public and private workers are due a raise.

Furthermore, it was in The New York Times itself that reporter Michael Powell pointed out that a mere 2 percent increase in the state income tax would tip the state budget into a surplus. How is this figure consistent with The Times’ call for even more draconian measures than a wage freeze?

The record is on the side of workers; too bad the paper of record isn’t.

Moshe Adler teaches economics at Columbia University and at the Harry Van Arsdale Center for Labor Studies at Empire State College. He is the author of “Economics for the Rest of Us: Debunking the Science That Makes Life Dismal,” which is just out in paperback.


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