Most Americans want the sort of jobs that public employees have—stable and with good benefits—but they’re not willing to pay for others to enjoy the privilege. That’s one takeaway from a recent poll by Reason/Rupe, in which around 70 percent of respondents worry that their state and local governments can’t afford their pension obligations. Americans don’t necessarily want to infringe on the benefits promised to workers and retirees, but if fulfilling that promise involves higher property taxes and reduced services, most will approve pension reforms—as did 80 percent of this poll’s respondents. As for expensive health care and defined benefit plans, the public says that current government workers should pay more toward their health care, and that future employees should make their way into 401(k)s just like the private sector did.But the American dream, however elusive it is outside the halls of government, is still that steady job. Most people care more about job security and benefits than a bigger paycheck:
Retirement and health care benefits are highly valued by Americans. When considering whether to take a new job or stay at their existing job, 30 percent of Americans say benefits such as health care and 401(k) savings are the most important factor, followed by how interesting the work is (20 percent), earning the highest pay possible (17 percent), making a difference in society (13 percent), a pension (nine percent), and a flexible work schedule (seven percent).When asked to choose, 65 percent of Americans would rather take a job with a lower salary but more health and retirement benefits, while 33 percent would rather take a job with a higher salary but fewer health and retirement benefits.
As Megan McArdle recently wrote, these are the jobs we are fast losing, though young workers still want them. As she puts it, millennials are looking for security at exactly the time when the economy is shifting to a model that depends more on individualization and piecework. If taxpayers today aren’t eager to fund the expensive promises made to public employees in better times, how much less so will frustrated millennials be once they’re the backbone of the workforce?Even in government, one of the last sanctuaries of a Depression-era dream, these features of the old economy will soon start to die out. Let’s hope McArdle’s cautious optimism about the new economy (which we share) is well-placed.