Mythbuster: Federal workers not overpaid, senator asserts

'Flawed statistical data' leads to inaccurate conclusion that feds are grossly overpaid, according to Sen. Ted Kaufman

Recently circulated news stories charging that federal employees are grossly overpaid — allegedly earning more than twice their private industry counterparts — are based on “a flawed reading of statistical data,” according to Sen. Ted Kaufman (D-Del.).

In a Sept. 15 speech, Kaufman disputed a USA Today article purporting that federal workers’ pay dramatically outstrips that of their private-sector counterparts. The newspaper’s analysis, which was based on Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) data, concluded that, in 2009, federal employees received an average total compensation in pay and benefits of $123,049, while private sector workers made $61,051.

The newspaper’s analysis did not include military pay in its calculation of federal compensation, Kaufman said.

One flaw in the data used by the newspaper is that it does not compare similar jobs across all categories, Kaufman said, adding that it’s unfair to compare the small, 1.9 million-strong federal workforce against the 101.3 million who are employed in the private sector. That’s because, as Kaufman pointed out, the civilian federal workforce is mostly comprised of highly skilled, highly educated employees who tend to earn higher salaries.

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“Simply put, there are far more people proportionally in the private sector earning lower wages than in the federal government, because the government has outsourced so many low-wage jobs,” Kaufman said. “Our federal workforce has also become far better educated in the last twenty years, which also translates into greater earning power.”

For many of the occupations being compared, the total number of federal employees in a given category is just far too small — a fraction of the total employed in the private sector, Kaufman said. And, in many cases, the job categories in the private and public sectors are not comparable.

For example, federal “highway maintenance workers” make an average of $11,344 more each year then their counterparts in the private sector, Kaufman said. However, there are barely 50 such federal employees, which is .9 percent of the number of such workers in the private workforce (5,190), Kaufman said.

Federal jobs titles also are often mislabeled, Kaufman said, which adds to the comparison problem. The federal employees, “who were listed in the BEA survey under this category, are likely performing very different, and quite possibly more highly specialized work, than most of the highway maintenance workers in the private sector,” Kaufman said.


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Reader comments

Sat, Oct 27, 2012

People seem to be missing the point.

Education level is irrelevant when its above the task level. The task done is what is relevant.

What good is having a PHD do something a high school graduate would do equally well? What exactly does the degree brings to the task?

Is a nonsense to pay the worker based on their education instead of the task, and how well it was done.

If a PHD wants a job with PHD salary, then the job should be at a PHD level of competence. Not a high school level of competence.

If the PHD still wants the job, then he should do it at the same pay as a high school level of competence worker. As the task can be by a high-school level of competence worker.

There are not many jobs that actually require a PHD level of competence. Most task on the Federal government can be done with a high school level of competence. Specially, since computers have taken over bureaucracy.

The private sector understand this. As overpaying affects them.

In the case of Government they do not care, as its not coming from their own pockets. Thus they choose highly educated people for menial task. Resulting in mediocre and bored workers with high degrees doing tasks below their level at a high markup.

Wed, Apr 6, 2011 Johta

Federal workers tend to be more highly educated than workers in private industry and actually make less than comparable workers in large private sector companies. (Let's make a fair comparison of large to large here.) Private Sector Company with more than 50,000 employees the average pay is $75,015 Federal Government the average pay is $67, 954. These numbers came from non-partisan see ) BTW, small business pay averages around $50,000 - $55,000 a year depending on company size and State & Local government pay averages $52,000 per year)

Fri, Mar 4, 2011

Federal workers are over paid and senators state and federal we let it happen we are to blame also off table spending must be stopped we are too chicken Fred Jones

Mon, Jan 3, 2011 Ralph2 West

Amen to original Ralph's comments. I agree with almost everything you said. Very well stated! If someone is interested in the TRUTH about federal pay, read closely to what Ralph wrote. Yes, gov workers have some decent benefits in some regards, but apples to apples, some of the government worker apples have worms in them compared to many public sector jobs (medical benifits in particular). While the wormy apple is still useful and edible, it still isn't as good as what many others offer. Okay, it gets made up for in the vacation time off. A game of numbers I guess. Ralph forgot to mention that the Life insurance benefits of a federal worker, well, a federal worker can do much better by getting his own plan on the outside vs. the plan offered to them in the government. I know, cause I went outside to save money. I stay federal because I'm on the old CSRS retirement system and I look forward to options and priviledges found in small sections of public employment, but very small sections. I too could earn much more dollars leaving gov. employment and going private sector. I choose to stay because what I earn is adaquate for my needs and future goals. Please don't lie and say I am over paid when I know better!

Mon, Oct 18, 2010 Gary

As a federal worker, I can speak to my own qualifications. I served 26 years on active military service during which time I earned two Master's Degrees. I work in a program where almost all of my colleauges have at least a Masters degree. We are not overpaid by any stretch. However, I will note that the performance appraisal system is flawed. There are too many folks who get in the federal system and cannot be dismissed irregardless of their performance. Accountability is lacking and many do skate by without much productivity

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