Unbalanced Approach: Government Workers Work Less and Earn More

Unbalanced Approach: Government Workers Work Less and Earn More

Analysis of government versus private sector pay and work hours suggests bureaucrats get more money for less work.

Andrew Biggs of the American Enterprise Institute and Jason Richwine of the Heritage Foundation have recently taken a look at two issues related to public sector pay, compensation and hours worked. What they find is that government workers work about one month less in a given year and earn more than comparably skilled workers in the private sector.

A summary of their findings on compensation were published by the Washington Post last month. Biggs and Richwine were responding to claims that public sector employees earn 35 percent less than their private sector counterparts. However, these comparisons are badly misleading.

All five outside studies reviewed this year by the Government Accountability Officefound that federal pay is equal to or higher than those of comparableprivate-sector workers. This is consistent with three decades ofacademic research. According to our analysis of Census Bureau data last year, the typical private-sector worker who shifts to a federal job receives a salary increase, while federal workers who leave for the private sector tend to get a salary cut.

It’s also important to note that the comparison claiming public workers earn less did not consider their benefits, which are considerably more generous than those in the private sector. Add it all up, and you have convincing evidence that, when training, experience and benefits are factored in, public sector employees earn more than comparable individuals in the private sector.

Biggs and Richwine also looked at work hours in the public and private sector. In a piece that appeared in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal, they examined the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ American Time Use Survey, which asks individuals to keep a detailed time-use journal. The BLS survey found a significant difference in the amount of time worked in each sector:

What we found was that during a typical workweek, private-sectoremployees work about 41.4 hours. Federal workers, by contrast, put in38.7 hours, and state and local government employees work 38.1 hours. Ina calendar year, private-sector employees work the equivalent of 3.8more 40-hour workweeks than federal employees and 4.7 more weeks thanstate and local government workers. Put another way, private employeesspend around an extra month working each year compared with publicemployees.

So government workers not only earn more; they also work significantly less. The lesson that Biggs and Richwine take from the data is that there is a basic inequity in the system. Their recommendation is for the private sector to demand fairness in the face of more demands for resources from the public sector: “Before we ask private-sector employees to work more to support government, government itself should work as much as the private sector.”


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