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POLICY INSIGHT
BEYOND THE NUMBERS

The Myth of the Overpaid Public Worker, Again

Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin cites data showing that, on average, total compensation (wages plus benefits) is higher for public-sector workers than private-sector ones — implying that public-sector workers are vastly overpaid.  But it’s an apples-to-oranges comparison.  As our brief report on state and local workers explains:

While the average pay for all public employees exceeds that of all private workers, this reflects the fact that public-sector jobs are much more likely to require higher education; teaching positions require a college or master’s degree, for example.  State and local employees are twice as likely as private-sector workers to have a college or advanced degree.

In fact, studies find that state and local workers are paid 4 to 11 percent less than private-sector workers with similar education, job tenure, and other characteristics. To be sure, benefits are typically better in the public sector, but that doesn’t totally offset these workers’ lower wages.  The best available study finds that total compensation for the average state and local worker — including the value of benefits — is 4 percent less than that of a comparable private-sector worker.