My turn: A response to Kreitzer's data on state employees

Posted: Monday, October 15, 2007

I have to take issue with several points in Alaska Commission of Administration Annette Kreitzer's editorial of Oct. 10. She stated, "The average stay of an employee with the state right now is about 10 years, and the average age of that employee is about 45. The average age of a new hire is 38 years of age. We are told by the people who track such things, that the millennium generation trend is to stay in a job around five years." This is an example of what Harry Truman referred to as "lies, damned lies, and statistics."

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The McDowell Group surveyed workers at the Department of Environmental Conservation in 2006. The "average" worker had worked for ADEC 7.6 years, but 43 percent of the workers had worked for less than five years and 31 percent had worked for more than 10 years. That is not a Gaussian distribution when 74 percent of the data set falls outside of the mean. As any competent student of statistics or probability knows, using the average value to describe a population is only accurate if you have a Gaussian distribution. Sorry for the mathematical terms, but if you are going to throw numbers around, you'd better get your math right. In other words, the average value only works if every state employee is identical in terms of state employment history.

The accurate way to analyze non-homogeneous data is to look at the median, the halfway point where half of the employees are below and half are above, as well as the average value. That provides a much different answer, particularly when age is factored in.

The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the overall median tenure for state government employees in 2006 is 6.3 years, up slightly from previous years. But they also report that the median tenure of older workers is several times higher. For workers older than 40, the median is 9.9 years, and 11.7 percent of those workers have more than 25 years of public service. This corresponds with analysis by the bureau that most workers will hold five jobs in their lifetime, will go through three jobs before the age of 25, and that approximately one third of the job changes after the age of 25 are promotions and a third are due to job elimination or relocation. This is not a new trend, but rather has been the dominant employee profile for more than 50 years.

Kreitzer touted the portability of Tier IV as a selling point. The desirability of pension portability to younger workers has never been subjected to critical analysis, while surveys of both federal and state workers have indicated an overwhelming preference for defined benefit pension plans. The proof is that the majority of new hires are returning former state workers, not new Tier IV hires. The reality is that the whole idea of pension portability being desirable is a bunch of balderdash foisted upon us by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a right-wing lobbyist group that flew all the state Republican legislators to a resort and handed them Tier IV as a complete legislative package. The council pushed Tier IV in order to use it as a stepping stone for privatization of Social Security.

To say that the administration has offered the best union contracts in 15 years is damning them with faint praise. The last 15 years have not matched inflation. Providing pay and benefits to state employees commensurate with private industry is not a matter of insufficient state finances, it is a matter of insufficient state will. It's politics, plain and simple. It reads much better politically to spend money on roads and bridges than to pay state workers a decent wage.

• Craig H. Wilson is a Juneau resident.

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