Editor’s corner: Costs go beyond the paycheck

It’s always an eye-opener when it comes to salaries and benefits in the public sector. Earlier this week, an article in the Times Observer by Todd DeFeo of The Center Square did an excellent job of explaining that bottom line.

What many are state employees are paid is much more than just the amount on the check. In the public sector, the benefits of health care and pensions drive costs for muncipalities and the state.

Those hidden numbers, likely 50% or more of the annual salary, are a huge factor. They look even larger when you consider the major harm done to the economy by COVID-19.

Look around. Wall Street may be doing great, but the real pain is on our Main Streets. We all know neighbors who have lost jobs or have seen their hours cut in the last six months by the pandemic.

None of this is anyone’s fault. However, the public sector pain is never the same. Federal and state funds — as well as taxpayer dollars — fund these valuable and important positions.

But when the economy has been shaken, much like in 2008, cash flow becomes an issue for a number of businesses and families. That does not mean it always trickles into government positions.

According to Center Square, state employees made about an average of $60,497. That, according to the U.S. Census, is right around the overall state’s household median income of $59,445.

That later figure, however, is in peril due to the pandemic. This has led state Rep. Frank Lyon, R-Lebannon, to call for a pay freeze for state employees.

“This is the right and appropriate action at this time,” he said. “Many Pennsylvania citizens are suffering from job losses and struggling to get by. The pandemic is also taking a tremendous toll on state revenue, which will impact state budgets for years to come. We are committed to sharing in the sacrifices to restore financial stability to our citizens and our Commonwealth as we prepare to face the very difficult fiscal challenges ahead.”

Pennsylvanians, and Americans, are still only beginning to see the real impact of COVID-19 on our economies. What lies ahead, many believe, will be more years of hardship from the loss of business and revenues that will take time to rebound.

Besides that, our economy is being reshaped. Will working at home become more of the norm in the future? Will the skyscrapers of New York City, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh ever be filled to capacity again?

No one’s quite sure. What is apparent, when not looking at the stock market, is the economy is very fragile.

Slowing the growing salary and benefit train in the Commonwealth is a necessity.

This is not about underappreciating state workers and what they do. It’s about riding out this unfortunate storm.

John D’Agostino is the regional editor of the Times Observer, The Post-Journal and the OBSERVER in Dunkirk, N.Y. Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday.com or call (716) 487-1111, ext. 253.


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