Do we need more firefighters, policemen and teachers? Probably not

A marketplace makes adjustments for demand; government scares mom and dad.

You might have thought that Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney proposed tossing kindergarteners into classes taught by arsonists when he noted that voters were tired of funding government???s unsustainable hiring practices. After all, every politician knows there are three careers you never ever go negative on: teachers, police and firefighters.

Here???s the full quote — which has morphed from Romney noting the actions of Wisconsin voters to the Obama administration claiming that Romney ???wants to cut jobs for firefighters, police and teachers.???

“He wants to hire more government workers. He says we need more firemen, more policemen, more teachers. Did he not get the message of Wisconsin. The American people did. It’s time for us to cut back on government and help the American people.”

Bad politics, maybe, but a necessary discussion. Do we really need to hire more firefighters, policemen and teachers? In many places — and, obviously situations vary — the fact is that Romney is probably right.

Crime rates have dropped dramatically across the country, despite the warnings of experts. In 2011, the number of violent crimes in the U.S. fell to the lowest they have been in 40 years — and, as the New York Times pointed out, this was ???considered puzzling partly because it ran counter to the prevailing expectation that crime would increase during a recession.???

The FBI stats show that over the past 20 years, homicides have dropped by 51 percent, property thefts by 64 percent, as well as dips in domestic violence and aggravated assault. Criminologists point to technological advances in crime fighting as one reason rates have fallen — more productivity —  but they have trouble explaining the rest. Certainly, with crime rates so low, it would be fair to ask why some cities and states continue to hire increasing numbers of police officers.

As for teachers, most people probably still believe the myth that kids are in larger classes with ever-diminishing numbers of teachers or that more teachers equate to better results. Neither is true. Pupil/teacher ratios have been dropping for years; and results have not been on an upward trend.

From the National Center for Education Statistics:

For public schools, the number of pupils per teacher???that is, the pupil/teacher ratio???declined from 22.3 in 1970 to 17.9 in 1985. After 1985, the public school pupil/teacher ratio continued to decline, reaching 17.2 in 1989. After a period of relative stability during the late 1980s through the mid-1990s, the ratio declined from 17.3 in 1995 to 16.0 in 2000. Decreases have continued since then, and the public school pupil/teacher ratio was 15.3 in 2008. By comparison, the pupil/teacher ratio for private schools was estimated at 13.1 in 2008. The average class size in 2007???08 was 20.0 pupils for public elementary schools and 23.4 pupils for public secondary schools.

The number of public school teachers has increased by a larger percentage than the number of public school students over the past 10 years, resulting in declines in the pupil/teacher ratio. In the fall of 2010, there were a projected 15.6 public school pupils per teacher, compared with 16.0 public school pupils per teacher 10 years earlier.

According to the US. Department of Labor, as of 2010, there were 1,655,800 kindergarten and elementary schools teacher and the ???job outlook??? was at a 17-percent growth by 2020.

Furthermore, the vast majority of situations that firefighters respond to these days are of the medical variety and have absolutely nothing to do with fires per se. In many communities it seems that hiring more firefighters makes no sense.

According to the Home Builders Association:

Since 1979 the number and rate of fire deaths has fallen considerably. In 1979 the number of all fire deaths was 5,998. By 2001it had fallen to just 3,326, a decline of 44.5 percent (Figure 1). However, this understates the true improvement, as the U.S. population increased by 60 million during this period. Accounting for this, the fire death rate per million persons (FDPM) fell from 26.7 to 11.7, a decline of over 56.2 percent.

Equally impressive has been the decline in house fire deaths. Between 1979 and 2001 the number of such deaths fell from 4,863 to 2,604, a decline of 46.5 percent, while the residential FDPM rate declined from 21.7 to 9.1, a drop of 57.9 percent …

This doesn???t mean that there aren???t districts that could use a few more teachers or that there aren???t areas where they need more cops and firefighters, but as Mike Huckabee put it: ???You need enough firemen to put out the fires. You don’t arbitrarily go, hire firemen, policemen or teachers unless you have more kids in school. And what we need to be talking about is not hiring more teachers, but hiring better teachers and getting rid of the ones that don’t teach.”