Sunday, February 27, 2011

"You can't have one group who are the haves and one group . . . who are the have-nots”

Those egalitarian sentiments are from Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin. By “the haves,” he doesn't mean people who actually have a lot of money, but public-sector workers. Many news accounts suggest that the public sees things this way too—that there's a lot of resentment of public employees, and especially public-employee unions. For example, there's the New York Times magazine article from which the quote is taken, or this one from the Guardian.

Is this true? There have been some very recent surveys about the proposed Wisconsin law, but here are some older ones.

This isn't about pay and benefits, but the changes are interesting:

“Most teachers in the nation now belong to unions or associations that bargain over salaries, working conditions and the like. Has unionization, in your opinion, helped, hurt, or made no difference in the quality of public school education in the United States? “ (Gallup)

1976: 22% helped; 38% hurt; 27% no difference; 13% don't know
1984: 49% helped; 29% hurt; 26% no difference; 7% don't know
1998: 27% helped; 26% hurt; 37% no difference; 10% don't know

On pay and benefits:

Just your own opinion, do you believe that federal government employees are paid more, or paid less than the same persons would earn in non-governmental jobs? (Gallup, 1977)

64% more; 12% less; 13% about the same (volunteered); 11% don't know

Finally, do you think--relative to workers in private industry--that government employees are overpaid, underpaid, or fairly paid? (American Enterprise Institute, 1981)

44% overpaid; 11% underpaid; 38% fairly paid; 7% don't know

In general, do you think the salaries and benefits of most government employees are too high for the work that they do, too low for the work that they do, or are their salaries and benefits about right for the work that they do? (CBS News, January 2011)

54% too high; 4% too low; 32% about right; 5% depends (volunteered); 5% don't know

On the other hand:

In general, do you think teachers are paid too much or too little for the job they are expected to do? (National Opinion Research Corporation, 1943)

2% too much; 58% too little; 30% about right; 9% don't know

Do you think public school teachers get paid too little for the work they do, too much for the work they do, or about the right amount? (Stanford University/Associated Press, 2010)

7% too much; 57% too little; 31% about right; 5% don't know

There were quite a few survey questions about teachers' pay in between 1943 and 2010, but it gets a kind of monotonous, because the results are always about the same. But there is one that's worth special notice because it mentions taxes:

Bearing in mind that they are paid out of taxes, do you think public school teachers are paid enough, too little, or too much? (Business Week/Harris 1992)

35% enough; 55% too little; 6% too much; 4% not sure.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

More choices

I looked to see if there were any later questions on living in the "horse-and-buggy days" versus the present.  There didn't seem to be, but there were a couple that offered a choice between the past, present, and future.  A 1964 question from a survey on Hopes and Fears of the American People (which I believe was part of an international survey): 

"Here's a somewhat philosophical question. In general, are you completely satisfied to be living now in the present--or would you prefer to have lived sometime in the past, or to live sometime in the future? "

80% said they were satisfied with the present, 10% preferred the past, and 8% preferred the future.   

In 1978, a Roper poll asked:

"If you could choose any time in history or any time in the future in which to live, what do you think your choice would be--to have lived at some time in the past, or to live at some time in the future, or to live in present day times? "

Now it was 60% for the present, 25% for the past, and 12% for the future.  The questions aren't exactly the same, but I don't think that the difference is just the result of question wording.  Having experienced the 1970s, I can see why many people would have been inclined to think that other times looked good by comparison. 


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Those were the days

In March 1939, a Gallup Poll asked "Do you think you would rather lived [sic] during the horse-and-buggy days instead of now?"  25% said yes and 70% said no, with 5% undecided.  Then it asked "Do you think Americans were happier and more contented at that time than they are now?"  63% said yes, 27% said no, and 10% were undecided.  Why didn't people want to live when they could have been happier and more contented?

The poll also included a measure of economic status--there's not much detail on how it was constructed, but I think it was based on a combination of occupation, interviewer's judgment, and answers to questions about whether you owned a car and a telephone.  Here is a comparison of answers by economic status.  (I think "OAA" stands for "Old Age Assistance," but I'm not sure.)

             Rather    People happier      N
           lived then     then

Wealthy        11%        67%             36        
Average +      15%        56%            182
Average        18%        59%            510
Poor +         27%        65%            238
Poor           25%        64%            297
Relief--WPA    37%        68%            163
Relief         53%        80%             59
OAA            61%        81%             38

The percent thinking that people were happier back in the day is pretty similar in all groups, although maybe somewhat higher among the poorer ones (also OAA, although that could be the effect of age).  The differences in the percent saying they would rather have lived then are considerably larger.  So either people with high incomes were more likely to be illogical, or people were implicitly thinking of "happier and more contented" as referring to the non-material side of life.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Of happiness and despair we have multiple measures

About a year ago, Andrew Oswald and Stephen Wu published some research on state differences in people's satisfaction with their lives.  The data were obtained from the Behavioral Risk Factors Surveillance System, a large telphone survey of the public.  New York came in last, followed by Indiana, Connecticut, and New Jersey.  The state rankings, especially the low ranking of the tri-state area, got some attention in the media

The BRFSS also includes some other questions about "well-being."  One was how often you felt "worried, tense, or anxious" and another was about feeling "sad, blue, or depressed."  These questions were asked in thirty-three of the states.  The state rankings on the two questions were quite similar (a correlation of 0.78), so I combined them into a total of days felt bad.  The top-ranked states on satisfaction and (fewest) days felt bad:

Satisfaction      Felt Bad

Louisiana         Louisiana  
Alabama           Hawaii  
Mississippi*      North Dakota  
Hawaii            Alaska 
South Carolina    Iowa   
Florida*          Arizona  
Arizona           North Carolina  
Montana*          Nebraska   
Texas*            Wisconsin  
Maine*            Minnesota  

and bringing up the rear, we have:

Pennsylvania*    Georgia
California       New Jersey
Illinois*        Connecticut
Rhode Island     Ohio
Ohio             District of Columbia
Michigan*        Indiana
New Jersey       Oklahoma
Connecticut      Tennessee
Indiana          Alabama
New York         Kentucky

Asterisks indicate the the "worried, tense, or anxious" and "sad, blue, or depresssed" questions were not asked in that state. 

There three states that did well in both satisfaction and days felt bad (Louisiana, Hawaii, and Arizona), and four that did badly in both (New Jersey, Connecticut, Indiana, and Ohio).   But Alabama was among the best in satisfaction and among the worst in days felt bad.  South Carolina was among the top ten in satisfaction, but about average in days felt bad, while New York and Rhode Island were near the bottom in satisfaction, but slightly better than average in days felt bad. 

When you consider individual people, there's a high correlation between days felt bad and overall satisfaction--by and large, people who feel bad are dissatisfied people.  But among states, the correlation is much weaker (about 0.3).  That's unusual--"ecological" correlations are usually much higher than individual-level correlations.