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Down And Out On $61,000 A Year

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Down And Out On $61,000 A Year

CREATED Dec 7, 2011

Here's a large portion of the e-mail from a public employee named "George" that we discussed during the first hour of Wednesday's show:

I am writing to ask you how a family of four can survive on my state salary.  My house is 1150 square feet.  I do not have cable tv or satellite. I am now considering getting rid of our cell phones. ... I worked at Ethan Allen School for 13 years.  We were shut down.  I now drive 80 miles round trip to work at Dodge Correctional Institution.  Since the reforms I had to reduce my house payment by $200 a month.  I am still finding it hard to make ends meet.  Please explain to my kids why Santa will not be bringing them much for Christmas.  Please help me explain to my wife why she shouldn't participate in a traditional family event like baking cookies because gas and everything else, like ingredients for cookies have gone up in price.  Please explain to our church as to why we haven't submitted a payment for our kids religion classes.  The blue collar workers of the state government are what makes Wisconsin work.  These reforms were never about Wisconsin.  They're about dismantling the Unions and the Democratic Party.  Look deep into your heart and then yourself in the mirror, and ask yourself, is this really what you stand for and want to be about? .... .

After receiving this e-mail, I sent a note back to "George" asking how much he made (including overtime).  "George" didn't immediately respond via e-mail.  However, since he had signed his name, I was able to check his salary through the State Employees data base.  According to those records, in 2010 "George" made $21.97 an hour and pulled down total pay of $60,957 (including $15,427 in overtime).

Let me get this straight.  A guy made almost $61,000 last year in 2010, is still employed at the same job and his wife can't afford to bake Christmas cookies?  Wow.

Now I appreciate that "George's" access to overtime moving forward is probably more limited since the State started tightening up on some questionable overtime policies at the Department of Corrections.  So, let's say he'll only pull in $7500 instead of $15,000 in overtime this year. This still leaves him with more than $50,000 in income.  Even after paying more in health insurance and contributing to his pension plan, it's tough for me to believe that we're all Grinches because George can't get by on $50,000 or even $45,000.

Needless to say, "George's" e-mail generated a huge response from listeners - including many public employees.  Interestingly, many of those employees would willingly trade places with "George" and seem glad to have a job with benefits and steady income in today's economy.  Ditto for listeners either currently out of work or working in the private sector.

Let me be clear. I'm not arguing that "George" is overpaid - and I appreciate that working as a Correctional Officer is a thankless job.  Still, "George" has a job that pays him almost $22 an hour along with benefits that many people would kill for (even if he has to contribute a modest amount toward their costs).  Beyond that, if "George" thinks the grass really is greener somewhere else, there's nothing to stop him from taking his talents elsewhere.

In the interim though, "George" shouldn't blame the Governor if his kids don't get the latest video game this Christmas.