According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, $692.9 million in pre-deduction wages were paid to employees in San Benito County during 2015. Local public employees earned $165.2 million (24 percent) of those wages. The remaining $527.6 million (76 percent) of in-county wages were paid by the county’s economic engine — private enterprise.
The employment numbers were even more lopsided; of the 15,891 employees working in the county in 2015, 2,795 (17.6 percent) worked in the local public sector, while the private sector employed 13,096 (82.4 percent) of the workers.
Note: See the attached pdf file at the end of this article for a table of selected SBC private employment and wage data for 2015.
In addition to the county, cities, water districts, and wastewater operations, local public employment included the county healthcare district and county school system; the latter two, together, made up 75 percent of the full- and part-time public employees. Not included were a few hundred state and federal (public) employees and several hundred proprietors (private and professional business owners) in the county.
We tend to see the public sector as a single monolithic employer – government – while we see private enterprise as individual endeavors, but if you break the figures into the two broad sectors as employment reports do, then it becomes obvious that in spite of a large local public footprint, more than twice the relative size of Santa Clara County’s 7 percent, the private sector still drives the economy of San Benito County.
Public employees have better pay and benefits as a whole. Their 2015 local wages averaged $59,117 while private employees averaged $40,292, but when it comes to total wages it’s no contest, private enterprise is the easy winner.
According to a Congressional Research Service 2014 report, public employees are older and have more years of education, especially college degrees, than private sector workers. Generally, older workers and those with more education earn more than younger workers or those with less education. That accounts for some of the wage disparity.
Obviously, employment sub-sectors can also have an impact on wages. Seasonal or part-time employees have lower annual wages than year-round, full-time employees and the smaller number of employees working in finance generally have better wages than the large number working in agriculture production and so on.
There will be lots more discussions over the proper role of government and the cost and quality of some of the services it provides, but that can wait for another day. Meanwhile, the data is clear – if San Benito County wants to improve the economic health of its residents it has to seriously nurture and expand private enterprise because private enterprise generates the wealth and pays the bills.
When it comes to the economy, our local leaders cannot afford to be government-centric.