Underpaid Feds?

How does your pay and benefits package compare to the private sector? New statistics compiled by a researcher at the Cato Institute is based on data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis and shows that the average federal employee makes exactly double that of the average private sector employee.

The most popular topic among employees of most organizations is pay and benefits. Uncle Sam’s army of civilian workers is no exception.

The most popular articles (at least the ones read the most on our site) are inevitably those regarding pay and benefits.

When we write and publish articles about federal salaries, the most common comments we get are along these lines:

  • “I don’t know anyone in government who makes the kind of money portrayed by these figures.”
  • “Who makes up these figures? Government employees do not make this much money.”
  • “Average government salaries should not include air traffic controllers as their salaries skew the average for the rest of the workforce.”
  • “DC federal workers salaries should not be included in average figures as their grades are higher.”
  • “SES personnel should not be included in calculating the average salary for federal employees.”
  • “Private sector companies employ many more clerks and lower skilled employees. Of course the average private sector salary will be lower.”
  • “Comparisons with the private sector are comparing apples and oranges. The federal government employs highly skilled workers. We are not an army of clerks working at Wal-Mart.”
  • “These figures just reflect a political agenda.”
  • “I’d like to know if the dweeb doing the article also stated that, no matter how little or how much the individual Federal workers make, we do pay into our own retirement programs and pay for health insurance, and most of us also pay life insurance.”
  • “Where is the mad exodus to the private sector? If it is your duty to your country that fulfills you, why complain about your pay?”
  • “Federal workers secure and highly paid? What planet is this person talking about?”
  • “Though officially non-partisan, Cato is heavily linked to the Republican Party and the conservative movement in general.”

A few weeks ago, we ran an article entitled “Federal Workforce is Elite Island of Secure and High-Paid Workers.” The basis for the article can be summarized as: “The average federal worker earned $100,178 in wages and benefits in 2004, which compared to $51,876 for the average private-sector worker….Looking just at wages, federal workers earned an average $66,558, 56 percent more than the $42,635 earned by the average private worker.”

So how does the federal workforce compare with the private sector based on the newest statistics? Based on these figures, and comments from readers who see themselves as a base of loyal Democrats, perhaps there may be an increasing number of active Republicans among federal workers.

According to Chris Edwards of the Cato Institute, based on data provided by the Bureau of Economic Analysis (part of the Commerce Department) the pay and benefits gap between federal employees and private industry taxpayers is wide and getting wider.

According to the latest figures, the average private sector worker compensation: $53,289. The average compensation for federal employees: $106,579. You can expect to be reading in editorial pages across the country that federal employees now make exactly twice the amount of private sector workers. The figures include both wages and benefits.

And how about salaries without including benefits? The average private sector employee now takes in $43,917. The average federal employee: $71,114.

The financial picture for federal employees actually improves each year. According to Edwards’ figures, in the 15 years between 1991 and 2005, federal employees got a higher increase in wage and benefits package for 13 of those years. The only exceptions were in 2000 when private sector workers got an increase of 6% and federal employees received 3.3% and in 1998 when the feds got 3.3% and private sector employees took in 5.4%.

You can count on reading these statistics in editorials and news reports around the country in coming weeks. Chris Edwards has an impressive background and is the Director of Tax Policy Studies for the Cato Institute.

Feel free to add your comments to the end of this article after you have read some figures that many Americans will find startling and at least a little upsetting when they are sending in their tax payments to the Internal Revenue Service.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47