Government workers do NOT fare better than private sector workers

How often have you heard this story:

The average government worker earns way more than the average private sector worker, and this is de facto evidence that government unions have too much power over elected politicians who lack backbone to stand up to them.

Anti-government columnists, newspapers, think tanks and foundations love to churn out reports that conclude the comparison of so-called averages proves that government employees are overpaid. They then seek redress in various ways, from rolling back public sector pay to tying the hands of public sector unions and sometimes elected officials too. Even special taxes for government workers and retirees have been proposed. All the while whipping up public distaste for government workers, especially in these times of economic stress for so many in America.

I have wondered about these studies. I wonder if the average worker at Boeing makes more than the average US private sector worker? How about at Children’s Hospital? Or Microsoft? Or USC? Or Google? I suspect the average at these places of employment is indeed higher than the average private sector wage throughout the nation, yet I see no clamor about that kind of so-called inequity. This has led me to conclude that those attempting to whip up public anger about government worker pay are comparing apples to oranges, and that average-to-average comparison of any part of the workforce is pretty meaningless. Their agenda is anti-government, not objectivity.  I have wondered if there is not an objective study of this subject out there somewhere.

Now maybe there is.  A new study has surfaced. It was done in New York state jointly by the Center for State and Local Government Excellence (I know, some will say that very name is an oxymoron) and the National Institute on Retirement Security. reported on April 28 that this study concluded that the average State and local worker earns less than their private sector counterparts and the pay gap is widening. This study had another interesting finding – even though public sector workers are better educated – 48% have college degrees compared to 23% in the private sector – public employees see lower pay. They do see higher benefits, however.

Aha, you say – those darned benefits! This New York study concludes benefits such as healthcare and retirement programs comprise 32.7% of total pay for public sector workers and 29.2% for private sector workers. But, even when accounting for these benefit differences government employees’ total compensation lags that of the public sector.

You may agree with the points made in this blog post, or you may disagree. Whatever your view, you would be well advised to steer away from anyone using averages of the universe to try and prove that the average of a portion of that universe is out of line.

About Over But Not Out

A retired Orange County employee, and moderate Republican. The editor seriously does not know OBNO's identity as did not the former editor, but his point of view is obviously interesting and valued.