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Reason Foundation

Survey Shows Voters Are Fed Up with Excessive Federal Pay

Adam Summers
September 7, 2010, 5:35pm

Federal government employees are overpaid, according to a recent survey by Rasmussen Reports. The survey found that 75% of likely voters nationwide want Congress to cut its own pay, and 54% believe that most federal workers are overpaid (just 24% disagreed and 22% were not sure).

The survey results come on the heels of a USA Today analysis of Bureau of Economic Analysis data that revealed that federal workers earned average pay and benefits of $123,049 in 2009, more than twice as much as the $61,051 earned by private workers. Yet the Office of Personnel Management is standing behind a different estimate that claims that federal workers are paid, on average, 22% less than private workers (not counting benefits). OPM Director John Berry responded to the USA Today analysis by claiming that comparing private and public sector averages was like comparing "apples to oranges," and argued that federal workers are "highly specialized."

While it is true that comparing averages does not yield perfect "apples-to-apples" results, other more detailed comparisons have shown that the discrepancies are significant even when the same jobs are compared. As a previous USA Today analysis from earlier this year concluded,

Federal employees earn higher average salaries than private-sector workers in more than eight out of 10 occupations, a USA TODAY analysis of federal data finds.

Accountants, nurses, chemists, surveyors, cooks, clerks and janitors are among the wide range of jobs that get paid more on average in the federal government than in the private sector.

Overall, federal workers earned an average salary of $67,691 in 2008 for occupations that exist both in government and the private sector, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. The average pay for the same mix of jobs in the private sector was $60,046 in 2008, the most recent data available.

These salary figures do not include the value of health, pension and other benefits, which averaged $40,785 per federal employee in 2008 vs. $9,882 per private worker, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Moreover, the pay gap has clearly been widening for many years. Since 2000, federal compensation has grown 36.9%, after adjusting for inflation, compared to only 8.8% in the private sector. And note that none of these comparisons places any value at all on the ironclad job security that federal workers enjoy which cannot be found in the private sector.

So when are governments and their labor unions going to simply own up to the fact that they have used their power to squeeze more money from taxpayers and enrich themselves at our expense? When they are compensated four times as much as private-sector workers? Ten times? Such discrepancies in compensation just make the case even stronger for privatization. At least the aforementioned survey suggests that taxpayers are now wise to the game and are fed up with it.

Related reading:

See my analysis from earlier this year of a comparison of public- and private-sector compensation done by a couple of public-labor-union-friendly groups, "Comparing Private Sector and Government Worker Salaries."


Adam Summers is Senior Policy Analyst


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