Federal Employees Grow Fat While Private Workers Tighten Their Belts

November/​December 2009 • Policy Report

Chris Edwards stirs up controversy

In a series of three posts on the Cato@Liberty blog this August, Cato Institute director of tax policy studies Chris Edwards exposed what ought to be obvious to anyone: federal employees are quite well paid. In fact, in total compensation as workers in the private sector, federal employees, on average, earn twice as much. What’s more, the gap between government and private workers is growing. In 2000 the average federal civilian compensation was $76,187, while private sector employees earned $45,772. In 2008, while those not embraced by the comfortable, recession‐​proof arms of the federal government have seen their average compensation grow to only $59,909, federal workers now take home a whopping average of $119,982.

Edwards’s analysis quickly gained much attention in the media, including two editorials in the Investors Business Daily, an excerpt in the Wall Street Journal, an excerpt in Forbes, and a USA Today quote. It was the topic of a CNN Lou Dobbs segment and a commentary by talk show host Mark Levin. The blogosphere jumped on the story, too, with discussions on The Economist (twice), Glenn Reynolds’s Instapundit, the National Review Online (twice), the Atlantic, gov​ex​ec​.com, fed​er​al​times​.com, fed​smith​.com, and many others. And Edwards’s inbox nearly burst with often irate feedback, including one federal employee who, after attacking Cato’s “ivory pedestal,” lamented that “capitalism is founded on abuses of labor, and on quasi criminal activity.”

All this for simply pointing out that federal employees make more than they’d like you to think.