The latest project on the Republican “honey do” list is to convince the American public that government employees are overpaid and overcompensated — so they can justify breaking their unions. And despite the actual facts (which just don’t seem to matter anymore), they seem to be making headway with the public. Perhaps this will help:
With unemployment in the region lingering at record levels, and job security a wistful memory for many, it’s easy to look for scapegoats. Thus a familiar refrain–government workers are overpaid, and our tax dollars are going towards outsized benefit and salary packages–has come back again. But as with most scapegoating, there’s not much truth to the accusation: the reality is just the opposite. Once age and education are factored in, state and local workers actually earn less, on average, than their private-sector counterparts. The wage penalty for state and local government workers in New England is close to 3 percent.
In their new study, The Wage Penalty for State and Local Government Employees in New England, Jeffrey Thompson of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and John Schmitt of the Center for Economic Policy Research demonstrate that the average state or local government worker does earn higher wages than the average private-sector worker–but this is because they are, on average, older and substantially better educated. The higher average wage in the public sector means that the teachers, engineers, accountants, and others who are running government offices, schools, and public services in New England are more experienced and highly trained, on average, than workers in the private sector. But despite these qualifications, their pay is on average lower than that of those counterparts. Another way to look at it is: given two workers of the same age and same level of experience, a public sector worker earns less than a private sector worker.
As the report’s co-author, Jeffrey Thompson, explains, “If you simply compare the wages in the public and private sector, you end up learning more about the skill levels of those workers than about the sector where they work. All that comparison tells you is that state and local government workers in New England are more highly educated and more experienced than their counterparts in the private sector. But once you properly control for education and experience, it becomes evident that public sector workers get lower wages.”