Usually I agree with Greg Mankiw. At least he’s usually worth reading. I read this post and chuckled and thought that’s California big spending for ya’, but on reflection it started to bug me
I’m not sure the example he use’s here is not very fair, and fact its taking a pot shot at first responders.
Greg Mankiw’s Blog
via Fun Fact of the Day: California Edition.
Here is a small clue that might help explain California’s fiscal problems:
According to a [Newport Beach] city report on lifeguard pay for the calendar year 2010, of the 14 full-time lifeguards, 13 collected more than $120,000 in total compensation; one lifeguard collected $98,160.65. More than half the lifeguards collected more than $150,000 for 2010 with the two highest-paid collecting $211,451 and $203,481 in total compensation respectively….Lifeguards are able to retire with 90 percent of their salary, after only 30 years of work at as early as the age of 50.
Note that the discussion is about lifeguards with total compensation in six figures. That’ll seem like a lot many people and an example of California’s big spending. Is it?
Several issues occur to me here.
First, this refers to “total compensation” not wages and salary. In other words it includes contributions for pensions, health insurance and benefits as well as wages. Not emphasizing that fact makes the post a little unfair.
That point may be more important in that I suspect it includes a life insurance component. Lifeguards have an image of glamour. You set in your chair and watch good looking beach goers right? Here’s that perception.
But I have to think that there’s an element of risk that may be reflected in expensive insurance for the lifeguard’s survivors in the worst case. Their health insurance may be expensive as well.
The early retirement is mentioned as well, but wouldn’t you expect that, maybe want it. A lifeguard is going to be in their physical prime one hopes, and I’m not so politically correct as to suggest that won’t usually imply younger than 50. (I’m not well over 50, so don’t call me an agist!)
Finally, in fact these guys are in fact first responders. They may have more than rudimentary emergency medical training. If you’re drowning, I don’t think you’d sneer at they’re being overpaid.
A lot of this is just skepticism about what the Mankiw post seems to assume: big salaries, for easy work and likely not the skilled a work at that. I haven’t confirmed the basis for my skepticism, but I think in bashing public workers a lot assumptions are being made with no facts. That’s not fair.
If you want see some real lifeguard action that might emphasize that lifeguarding may be glamorous, but is a real job, not a cartoon then check this out.