Sunday, June 17, 2012

Facts About Conservative Republican Fairy Tales: State and Local Government Workers

Facts About Conservative Republican Fairy Tales: State and Local Government Workers 

This brief report presents some basic facts about state and local employees:  the jobs they perform, how many there are, how their pay compares with pay in the private sector, and how much states and localities — mainly school districts, cities, and counties — spend on pay and benefits.

Who Are Public Employees?

By far the largest share of state and local government workers are the nearly 7 million teachers, aides, and support staff working in the nation’s elementary, middle, and high schools.  (See Figure 1).  Other prominent categories of state and local employment are protective services (including police officers, fire fighters, and correctional officers), higher education, health care (including nurses and other workers at public hospitals and clinics), and transportation (including road maintenance workers and bus drivers).
How Has the Number of Public Employees Changed Over Time?

Over the last 30 years, the number of state and local workers grew modestly relative to the overall population, from about 59 per 1,000 in 1980 to 65 per 1,000 in 2008 before declining to 61 per 1,000 in 2011.  (See Figure 2).  All of that growth has been in education workers and reflects demographic changes and policy initiatives, such as efforts to reduce class sizes and better help children with special needs.  Over the same period the number of non-education workers remained about the same relative to the overall population until declining somewhat after 2008.   Since August 2008, the total number of state and local government employees has declined by 662,000.

How Do Their Pay and Benefits Compare to Those of Private-Sector Workers?

Studies find that public workers are paid 4 to 11 percent less than private-sector workers with similar education, job tenure, and other characteristics.[1]   This wage disadvantage is greatest for higher-wage public workers.  The typical middle-wage worker earns about 4 percent less in the public sector than the private sector.[2]  Low-wage state and local workers, by contrast, receive a small wage premium.  (See Figure 3.)

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.[3]

Public-sector workers also earn less than their private-sector counterparts when one counts both their wages and benefits such as pensions and health insurance.  Benefits are typically more generous and secure for public employees than for most private-sector workers, but factoring in the value of these benefits does not eliminate the gap between state and local employees and their counterparts in comparable private-sector jobs.[4]  

The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, widely recognized as an authoritative source on retirement income issues, recently found that total compensation for public-sector workers — including the value of benefits — is 4 percent less than that of comparable private-sector workers.[5]