Monday, November 12, 2012
America: Who Pays the Bills?
I remember a couple of years ago, Michelle Obama urge an assembled crowd of adoring college students not to "sell out" by working at a private company. She wanted them to do things like work at non-profits. Gee, I thought, what if they all took her advice? Who the heck would pay the bills?
This got me wondering: how many people, do you suppose, are actually supporting this country? By that, I mean how many people are actually producing the wealth on which everyone relies, in one form or another? I didn't know, so I decided to find out.
Most jobs "pay for" themselves because they produce definable excess wealth. For instance, a factory owner will pay x to a worker because the value of person's work is worth more than x (this is also known as surplus value, a concept that Marx found contemptible). These are jobs that produce wealth. No one must contribute to that worker's salary out of the goodness of their hearts, or through taxation.
Other professions, such as government workers, teachers, clergy, foundation professionals, etc., rely money that must be taken from others via taxation or persuaded from others via charity.
So, how many people are footing the bill?
Our starting point is the number of employed people in the U.S.:
From this, we subtract
State and local government workers (incl. teachers) - 16 million
Federal workers - 4.4 million
Non-profit health care workers - 5.7 million
Higher Ed professionals - 3 million
Clergy and other religion professionals - 1.6 million
Civic, social , and fraternal organizations - 0.5 million
Arts and culture foundations - 0.35 million
Total: 31.6 million
This is the number of people who have jobs, but whose jobs must be funded through taxation or charity. Subtracting this from 154 million, we get 122.4 million as the number of workers who are producing wealth.
But there are lots of other people, too, principally the young, the old, the sick, and the unemployed. These groups do not produce wealth and must also, in all or in part, rely on funds from others.
The population of the United States is 311 million. There are 122 million people keeping the ship afloat. Also ponder this: for every three working age Americans with a job there are two without. I would suggest these things are unsustainable all by themselves, but it's only going to get worse. Ten thousand baby boomers retire each and every day.
I will sum up the Obama administration's approach to this for the next four years: "Nothing to see here. Move along."
(Note: this piece is not meant to suggest that professions such as teaching provide no value, of course they do. I taught myself, and I'd like to think I wasn't wasting my time. It is simply meant to point out some very harsh economic realities. My data source was the Bureau of Labor Statistics.)