14 March 2007

Bad Then, Worse Now

I recently visited a local government agency that deals with federal funds. After I learned how many people worked in that agency—and after picking up My jaw from the tiled floor—I subsequently asked several well-versed colleagues how many they felt worked at that agency.

The estimates ranged from 22 to 55, the high number given to Me by a man who worked for 14 years in the local Labor Department and said “They really need about 25 or 30, so I’ll say they have 55.”

I redefined the agency to them and asked if they wanted to change their estimates. I got a couple of “Are you kidding?” looks (which I get a lot), but only one of the 8 changed their estimate, from 55 to 65.

The agency in question has 202 employees.

When I told them the number, they were shocked. Utterly flabbergasted. To a man, they told Me the number was simply outrageous. (I note that the agency only has about 20 male employees, so that might be even more interesting to some of you.)

Brought back memories of something I wrote almost exactly 5 years ago, back on PuertoRican.com, where I was the columnist. (Okay, there was some other guy, too.) If anything, the situation outlined below is actually worse now.

Puerto Rican.com – Week of March 18th, 2002


It was published in the local press: The number of employees in the local Government, at the “state” level, is a little over 164,000, and if you add those at the Municipal levels, the number rises to a little more than 201,000.

Look at that number again: 201,000. We’ll come back to it in a moment.

I have said before that roughly 41% of the total workforce in Puerto Rico works directly or indirectly (sub-contracted) for the Government. Of the total number of people gainfully employed on the Island, (about 1,140,000) the percentage of those that work directly for the government is about 18% (17.6%, once I used a calculator.)

Now that doesn’t sound so bad, right? Wrong once: The number of indirect workers is listed, in records of the Office of Management and Budget, the Department of Labor and the Planning Board (future contracts, already awarded) at almost 284,000, making the government employee grand total about 485,000, or 42.5% of the overall employed. [Comparison: U.S. percentages: 11.5% and 21.9%.]

Uh-oh. It’s worse than I thought. “So what, right?" Wrong twice. Here’s what: The numbers mean that Puerto Rico has one Government employee for every 19 citizens, one of the worst ratios in the world. Not the U.S., not Latin America: The world. [If you toss in the sub-contracted, there is one “government” employee for every 8 citizens, not the usual ratio measurement, but one that shows how much the problem gets worse.]

One employee for every 19 citizens may not mean anything to you, so let me place it in perspective: If the average McDonald’s had a ratio of one employee for every 19 customers, that average McDonald’s restaurant would employ 121 people… all the time.

“Oh,” you say, “That cannot be right…You must be confusing public and private sectors and their very different circumstances.” You could say that and you’d be wrong a third time. When it comes to number of employees, the public and private sector have the same criteria: How many people are needed to effectively and efficiently render the services required? Period. Any other criteria is simply useless, for both the public and private sector have limited funds with which to pay their employees.

“Aha!” you claim with glee, “Now you’ve really made a boo-boo! The Government can incur in deficit spending and it does!” Wrong, part four. By law, both constitutional and fiscal, the Government cannot pay salaries without having the allotted funds. Otherwise, what kind of government would we have? (Hell, what kind of government do we have, anyway?) In a private company, paychecks also need to be covered with cash, so the basic criteria, the only criteria as cited above, holds true for fundamental legal and economic reasons.

Around the world, the average ratio is one non-military government employee for every 35 citizens. Puerto Rico is almost 2 TIMES more “top-heavy” with government employees than the world’s average, and we pay for it by having almost 80% of our total budget going to salaries and employee benefits. Can you see the problem? Is 20% of our money enough for progress? Should the Government have direct wage control over roughly 20% of the electorate and enormous influence over another almost 23%, in effect pressuring nearly half of the potential votes? It will anyway, but 43%?!? Is it any wonder there’s so much corruption and so little growth on this Island of Enhancement?

The Jenius Has Spoken.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dear Gil,

I hope all is well in your neck of woods. Your blog is featured on puertorican.com’s directory, under “Sociedad & Cultura”.

It’s just a way to say that you’re still −and always will be− part of the puertorican.com family. (By the way, you’re also one of my favorite bloggers.)

Keep up the great work!

Best regards,

Juan José