The way things are
Whenever "economic development" comes up, many people talk about bringing good-paying manufacturing jobs to our area and bringing them back to America in general. Unfortunately, those jobs have been in decline for decades and much of the talk about their comeback is just, well, talk. We need to find new industries and jobs, not dream about a return to the past.
Sadly, a Maryland study shows that only about 11% of the workforce in adjoining Washington County is employed in manufacturing. With an average weekly wage of $952 in 2007, the manufacturing sector is the best paid, but as we've seen with Prowler and Rayloc in recent years, it was on the downswing even before the recession.
Job growth, for better or worse, has been in government jobs – local, state and federal. The Quad-State Business Journal reported last month that government employment was up between 2002 and 2007 in nearly every county in our region of West Virginia, Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania. Our neighbors in Washington County and in the Winchester area led the regional pack in this regard.
But Morgan County had an astounding 23.9% of its workforce – or 718 people — who were said to be employed by government in 2007. Of course most of those work for the school system, the county's largest employer.
Though we've often been told that public employees and teachers are paid less than in the private sector, this no longer really seems to be true. Over in Washington County, local government employees earn about $743 a week, which is more than the $686 average for all workers. The numbers may be different in Morgan County, but it's a safe bet that education personnel earn more than the county average.
We've often wondered how taxpayers, who are having trouble finding good-paying jobs, can provide better salaries and benefits to public employees than they are getting themselves. It's one reason we've editorialized so hard against property tax hikes in recent years and why we favor a major reform of the health care system.
We suspect this tension will become more and more apparent in the next few years. Whether justified or not, people struggling to get by, and with no health care coverage, will probably become more and more outspoken about what they consider to be "cushy" government jobs.