The showdown in Wisconsin has generated competing claims about whether state and local government bureaucrats are paid too much or paid too little compared to their private sector counterparts.
The data on total compensation clearly show a big advantage for state and local bureaucrats, largely because of lavish benefits (which is the problem that Governor Walker in Wisconsin is trying to fix). But the government unions argue that any advantage they receive disappears after the data is adjusted for factors such as education.
This is a fair point, so we need to find some objective measure that neutralizes all the possible differences. Fortunately, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has a Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, and this "JOLTS" data includes a measure of how often workers voluntarily leave job, and we can examine this data for different parts of the workforce.
Every labor economist, right or left, will agree that higher "quit rates" are much more likely in sectors that are underpaid and lower levels are much more likely in sectors where compensation is generous.
Not surprisingly, this data shows state and local bureaucrats are living on Easy Street. As the chart illustrates, private sector workers are more than three times as likely to quit their jobs.
This helps explain why the unions are treating the Wisconsin debate as if it was Custer's Last Stand. The bureaucrats know they have comfortable sinecures and they are fighting to preserve their unfair privileges.
The only bit of semi-good news for Wisconsin taxpayers is that state and local bureaucrats are not as lavishly over-compensated as federal bureaucrats.
This Center for Freedom and Prosperity video looks at all of the data and reveals a pecking order. Federal bureaucrats are at the kings and queens of compensation. State and local bureaucrats are like the nobility. And private sector taxpayers are the serfs that worker harder and earn less, but nonetheless finance the entire racket.
The video closes with a very important point that the right pay level for many bureaucrats is zero. This is because they work for programs, departments, and agencies that should not exist.