Want a Balanced Federal Budget? Cut State Workers' Pay

By Francis, David R | The Christian Science Monitor, April 26, 2010 | Go to article overview

Want a Balanced Federal Budget? Cut State Workers' Pay


Francis, David R, The Christian Science Monitor


On average, state workers make $39.66 an hour, have traditional pensions untouched by stock market moves, and are laid off at one- third the rate of private-sector workers. Considering concerns about the federal budget, are government jobs too cushy?

Before the great recession, some people pooh-poohed government jobs. Who wanted stodgy when the private sector had go-go growth? Why stick with safe when you could get bonuses and stock options?

Today, and one financial crisis later, secure and solid look good. Perhaps too good.

On average, state workers and local government workers made $39.66 an hour in total compensation last year, according to Chris Edwards, an economist at the libertarian Cato Institute in Washington. Pay was 34 percent higher than in the private sector. Benefits were 70 percent higher.

Also, 90 percent of the 20 million state and local government workers have a traditional pension, where benefits aren't touched by stock market moves, notes a study by the Pew Center on the States. Only 20 percent of workers in the private sector still have a traditional pension. In 2005, a private-sector pension paid less than half the median public-sector pension.

Moreover, workers in the public sector are laid off or discharged at just one-third the rate that private-sector workers are, notes Mr. Edwards.

So, are government jobs too cushy? It's a popular topic in these tough economic times. When Edwards points out the public-private sector comparisons, he gets a lot of e-mail, some of it angry.

Those sympathetic with government workers emphasize that such pay comparisons do not take account of the higher average education level of many government employees, such as teachers and civil engineers. As one federal statistician notes, there aren't many low- paid fast-food workers among the 2 million federal government employees. …

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