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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