Want a High-Paying Job with Great Benefits? You Need Uncle Sam

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Federal workers not only receive better benefits than private employees, they're now paid better, too.

Not so long ago, the common wisdom was: Working for the government meant better benefits, working in the private sector meant bigger paychecks.

But a report this summer from the conservative Heritage Foundation which used statistics from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, shows that federal employees now win on both counts.

“Salaries and benefits — for identical jobs — are 30 percent to 40 percent higher in the federal government than in the private sector,” says the report, titled “Inflated Federal Pay: How Americans Are Overtaxed to Overpay the Civil Service.”

Among the findings…

  • The federal pay system pays its employees 22 percent more than the average private employee “controlling for observable skills and characteristics.”
  • The average private-sector employer pays $9,882 per employee in annual benefits. The federal government pays an average of $32,115 per employee.
  • Federal employees also enjoy more job security. Since the recession began, federal employment has risen by 240,000, or 12 percent.

Another study by the conservative Cato Institute, using some of the same stats, put it this way: “In 2008, the average wage for 1.9 million federal civilian workers was $79,197, which compared to an average $50,028 for the nation’s 108 million private sector workers.”

Titled “Federal Pay Continues Rapid Ascent,” their report doesn’t excuse liberals or conservatives for this trend…

The George W. Bush years were very lucrative for federal workers. In 2000, the average compensation (wages and benefits) of federal workers was 66 percent higher than the average compensation in the U.S. private sector. The new data show that average federal compensation is now more than double the average in the private sector.

President Obama is proposing a 1.4 percent raise for federal employees in 2011, while some Congressional Republicans want a hiring freeze.

It’s worth noting that both of the recent reports mentioned above have been issued by right-wing Washington think tanks. This politically hot topic was also studied several months ago by USA Today, using Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

From that article:

Key findings:

• Federal. The federal pay premium cut across all job categories — white-collar, blue-collar, management, professional, technical and low-skill. In all, 180 jobs paid better average salaries in the federal government; 36 paid better in the private sector.

• Private. The private sector paid more on average in a select group of high-skill occupations, including lawyers, veterinarians and airline pilots. The government’s 5,200 computer research scientists made an average of $95,190, about $10,000 less than the average in the corporate world.

USA Today’s conclusion? The typical federal employee is paid $66,591 vs. the private employee’s $55,500 – for a pay advantage of $11,091. Government union leaders counter, however, that many federal jobs aren’t comparable to those in the private sector, and federal employees tend to be both older and more educated than their private sector counterparts.

Expect to see more about federal vs private industry pay in the months ahead as wrangling over the federal budget deficit intensifies.

Stacy Johnson

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