Tag: public sector unions

Public’s View of Federal Workers

A poll released this week by the Washington Post found that 52 percent of Americans think federal workers are overpaid and 49 percent said they thought federal workers work “less hard” than private sector workers. Also, 75 percent said that federal workers receive better pay and benefits than similar private sector employees.

Post columnist Joe Davidson says the last result in particular left Office of Personnel Management director John Berry “steaming”:

He said he was frustrated that “the Heritage and Cato misinformation campaign has obviously gained traction.” The two Washington, D.C., think tanks have produced widely discussed reports indicating that federal workers are paid too much. A “pretty prolonged misinformation campaign over the last six month leading up to this,” he said, “has worked.”

It’s not surprising that Berry – an individual who has spent his entire career working in government – doesn’t appreciate the fact that regular Americans aren’t enthusiastic about funding generous pay and benefits for federal workers.

While federal workers have received raises in recent years, millions of private sector employees have lost their jobs or have had to take pay and benefit cuts. Joe and Jane Lunchbucket might have less money for their family, but they still have to cough up money to pay for federal raises. If Berry is steamed, many of the nation’s taxpayers are getting burnt to a crisp, as the poll suggests.

An article at GovernmentExecutive.com underscores why Americans think the federal workforce is privileged. Berry’s OPM is “butting heads” with federal worker unions over the ridiculously bureaucratic process of firing employees. Although the article should be read in its entirety to appreciate the eye-glazing details, the fight boils down to OPM’s ability to remove workers who provide false information on official federal documents.

See this Cato essay for more on federal employee pay.

Federal Government Is a Lucrative ‘Industry’

The Bureau of Economic Analysis latest release of industry compensation levels shows that the average federal worker ranks up at the top along with employees in the finance and energy industries. That’s not exactly popular company these days.

The BEA presents compensation data for 72 industries that span the U.S. economy. Figure 1 shows the 20 industries with the highest levels of average compensation, which includes wages and benefits. It also shows the average for all U.S. private industries and the average for the industry with the lowest compensation. (The names of the industries have been simplified in some cases).

Federal civilian workers have the sixth highest average compensation of the 72 industries:

As yesterday’s post showed, federal employee compensation has exploded over the course of the decade. Figure 2 shows that this federal employee compensation growth has been the fifth highest of the 72 industries measured by the BEA:

Unions and Government Debt

In a recent bulletin, I argued that public-sector unions impose various costs and burdens on state and local governments. Here is some more evidence.

The chart below shows a scatter plot of the union shares in state/local government workforces and state/local government debt levels as a share of state gross domestic product. Each blue dot is a U.S. state.

The variables are correlated – as the union share increases, a state tends to have a higher government debt load. The chart shows the fitted regression line in pink dots (R-square=0.27; F-stat=18; t-stat on the union share variable=4.2).

The correlation is likely caused by the fact that unionized government workers are powerful lobby groups that push for higher government-worker compensation and higher government spending in general.

(Thanks to Amy Mandler for data help and Andrew Biggs for suggestions. Andrew’s work on state debt is here).