Federal vs. private pay: The latest take on who makes more

BLS study finds feds make less, disputing some other reports

 Editor's Note: This story has been modified since its original publication to correct an error. The gap between federal and private sector pay has grown by 2.1 percent since last year to an average of about 24 percent.

A new government study shows that federal workers make an average of 24 percent less than their counterparts in the private sector, with some areas of the country showing much larger gaps, reports the Washington Post. The gap is an average of 2.1 percent wider than it was last year, according to the Post's Federal Eye column.

Some areas show significantly larger discrepancies. Federal salaries in the Washington-Baltimore area, for example, were 38 percent less than those in the private sector, according to the Post.

These numbers, compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, are likely to be hotly contested. USA Today issued a report in March that said the typical federal worker is paid 20 percent more than a private-sector employee in the same occupation. Salary figures listed by USA Today did not include benefits such as health insurance and pensions. The CATO Institute, a libertarian think tank, arrived at a similar conclusion, as did The Heritage Foundation, another conservative association, which also issued a report stating that federal employees earn 22 percent more in hourly wages than the private sector, reported FCW on July 26. Republicans had cited these earlier reports as examples of overspending in the government.

BLS released the latest numbers in a report to the Federal Salary Council, a presidentially-appointed panel that recommends pay for federal workers on the General Schedule. Based on the report, the council will likely recommend pay raises for federal employees for 2012 to President Barack Obama, including salary adjustments based on relative private-sector salaries in different metropolitan areas. Congress has not approved a pay raise for 2011.

BLS’ report also found different pay disparities based on an employees’ level, with higher-paid executives experiencing a larger wage gap than lower-paid employees, who may earn more than those in the private sector, the Post states.

Proponents of BLS’ report say other reports that arrive at an opposite conclusion regarding wage gaps, such as the one issued by USA Today, are misleading and fail to take into account factors that would create a more equivalent comparison. For example, private-sector salaries often include bonuses and incentive pay in some industries, which skew salaries up, said Allan G. Hearne, pay expert with the Office of Personnel Management, noted the Post. In addition, federal workers are often more educated and have more experience than those in similar jobs in the private sector, said Sen. Ted Kaufman, reported FCW on Sept. 24.

BLS surveyed more than 230 jobs in 31 regions outside the government but did not include the unemployed in the report, said the Post. Current unemployment rates stand at a little less than 10 percent and do not include those who are underemployed or who have given up looking for a job.

Other factors could also play a part in the wage-gap findings. Last week the government released its quarterly gross domestic product numbers, but economists say the inflation-adjusted 2 percent increase is not enough to decrease unemployment levels, according to an Oct. 30 Wall Street Journal article.

About the Author

Kathleen Hickey is a freelance writer for GCN.

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Reader comments

Fri, Jan 6, 2012 Em1

posted earlier: "But what does the federal government produce? Its Product? The Congressional chart is defense of the nation. RD&T, S&T, Product development and GDP growth is the private sector."....EXACTLY. END OF CONVERSATION

Mon, Jan 3, 2011

But what does the federal government produce? Its Product? The Congressional chart is defense of the nation. RD&T, S&T, Product development and GDP growth is the private sector.

Tue, Nov 30, 2010 Richard Virginia

It seems to me that a difference of 22-38% less for a Federal Worker as compared to a Private Sector Worker is one heck of a difference. Oh, and BTW, my share of Medical, Dental, and Vision Benefits is over $435 every two weeks or over $11,000 a year. http://voices.washingtonpost.com/federal-eye/2010/11/federal_salaries_fall_behind_p.html

Tue, Nov 30, 2010 DC

For all those folks with the degrees/advanced degrees who are boo-hooing about how other folks have moved up in pay and grade both in the federal and private sector, I can't help but notice that they either opted to stay (GS4- Nuclear Engineer with 30 years service?)-- despite knowing that there was little to no hope of advancement -- or didn't necessarily step up to the plate to qualify to find other employment. Yes, it is tough out there right now..but it wasn't/hasn't been tough for the last 15+ years. So, while it is possible some of the feds/private sector employees did just stay in one place and got promoted up to the the higher levels, the majority of them opted for seeking opportunities elsewhere. In some cases, they also made the effort to change skill sets to meet new job requirements and opportunities. I'm sure there are all kinds of reasons why these folks didn't move on or find employment elsewhere -- family, comfort zones, fear of the unknown, sense of entitlement; bills,etc. But the reality is where they are now, has little to do with the federal pay scale and what feds they know are getting paid. And for all those who love to throw in the "as a taxpayer" modifier in their comments -- federal employees pay taxes too. Which means they contribute towards their own salaries as well as all the services the rest of the world enjoys. I believe they call that "employee-owned" in the private sector, but of course, federal employees don't own their service, they just provide those services. In my case, I went back to school, primarily on my own dime, after leaving the military, to build on a new skill set, to get a second degree in a totally new field and start over in my late 30's. I even encountered the "You are too qualified for the level of job you are interviewing for" rationale on more than one occasion. I expect that when I finally "retire" -- I will have to continue to work part-time, despite every effort to prepare financially for said time.

Mon, Nov 29, 2010

I am a EE and retired with 32 years of government experience and service in DOD and DHS. I for one, worked long hours in some pretty deplorable conditions to keep our weapons systems functioning effectively and to train the military in operation and maintenance of said systems. I could have made much more in private industry, but chose to stay and serve. All of this Civil Servant bashing is the same old political garbage that was started under Reagan. It didn't work then and it won't work now. Let's face it. If you want to cut the budget, you need to go to where the money is. Defense contracts, double dipping military retirees, health care industry, etc., not civil service. I guess my pay raises will now be given to the top 2%(billionaires) when the lobbyists get their way again and force O'Bama to fold like a taco on the bush tax cuts. I'm sure Warren Buffet and the like can use a few more dollars to help them get by. At any rate, this federal pay freeze will not do squat to reduce the debt, mark my words!!

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