"Sadly, we could end up with a generation of Americans who want to work at the Department of Motor Vehicles"

We've Become a Nation of Takers, Not Makers


If you want to understand better why so many states—from New York to Wisconsin to California—are teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, consider this depressing statistic: Today in America there are nearly twice as many people working for the government (22.5 million) than in all of manufacturing (11.5 million). This is an almost exact reversal of the situation in 1960, when there were 15 million workers in manufacturing and 8.7 million collecting a paycheck from the government.

It gets worse. More Americans work for the government than work in construction, farming, fishing, forestry, manufacturing, mining and utilities combined. We have moved decisively from a nation of makers to a nation of takers. Nearly half of the $2.2 trillion cost of state and local governments is the $1 trillion-a-year tab for pay and benefits of state and local employees. Is it any wonder that so many states and cities cannot pay their bills?


Surveys of college graduates are finding that more and more of our top minds want to work for the government. Why? Because in recent years only government agencies have been hiring, and because the offer of near lifetime security is highly valued in these times of economic turbulence. When 23-year-olds aren't willing to take career risks, we have a real problem on our hands. Sadly, we could end up with a generation of Americans who want to work at the Department of Motor Vehicles.


Where are the productivity gains in government? Consider a core function of state and local governments: schools. Over the period 1970-2005, school spending per pupil, adjusted for inflation, doubled, while standardized achievement test scores were flat. Over roughly that same time period, public-school employment doubled per student, according to a study by researchers at the University of Washington. That is what economists call negative productivity.


President Obama says we have to retool our economy to "win the future." The only way to do that is to grow the economy that makes things, not the sector that takes things.

Comment: Sad state of affairs!


  1. That is pretty sad. I've experienced this firsthand though - during the two years I worked for the County of Anoka, I had countless people tell me that it was "a good job," and that I should stay there for the long term. That was despite the job not being anything special and my position being classified as a temporary position with no benefits.

  2. I see it especially in engineering--due to our nation taxing income and not consumption, we're more or less subsidizing Chinese imports, and then wondering why Americans don't want to go into the field anymore and travel all the time to the Far East.

    So people that would have been engineers are going into law, actuarial science, finance.....and we wonder why some of the things we need just don't exist. "duh."


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