Comparing Public and Private Occupational Pay

USA Today recently published a story regarding their analysis (utilizing Bureau of Labor Statistics data) of the pay differential between similar jobs in the public and private sector. According to their study:

Overall, federal workers earned an average salary of $67,691 in 2008 for occupations that exist both in government and the private sector, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. The average pay for the same mix of jobs in the private sector was $60,046 in 2008, the most recent data available.
These salary figures do not include the value of health, pension and other benefits, which averaged $40,785 per federal employee in 2008 vs. $9,882 per private worker, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

There’s also an occupation-based chart comparing the same jobs. Here are some charts based on that data.


HIGHEST DIFFERENTIAL ($’s) PUBLIC over PRIVATE

Job (by total difference – top 10) Federal Private Difference % Difference
Public relations manager $132,410 $88,241 $44,169 33.4%
Broadcast technician $90,310 $49,265 $41,045 45.4%
Clergy $70,460 $39,247 $31,213 44.3%
Chemist $98,060 $72,120 $25,940 26.5%
Graphic designer $70,820 $46,565 $24,255 34.2%
Landscape architects $80,830 $58,380 $22,450 27.8%
Recreation worker $43,630 $21,671 $21,959 50.3%
Cook $38,400 $23,279 $15,121 39.4%
Pest control worker $48,670 $33,675 $14,995 30.8%
Laundry, dry-cleaning worker $33,100 $19,945 $13,155 39.7%

HIGHEST DIFFERENTIAL (%) PUBLIC over PRIVATE

Job (by % difference – top 10) Federal Private Difference % Difference
Recreation worker $43,630 $21,671 $21,959 50.3%
Broadcast technician $90,310 $49,265 $41,045 45.4%
Clergy $70,460 $39,247 $31,213 44.3%
Laundry, dry-cleaning worker $33,100 $19,945 $13,155 39.7%
Cook $38,400 $23,279 $15,121 39.4%
Graphic designer $70,820 $46,565 $24,255 34.2%
Public relations manager $132,410 $88,241 $44,169 33.4%
Pest control worker $48,670 $33,675 $14,995 30.8%
Landscape architects $80,830 $58,380 $22,450 27.8%
Highway maintenance worker $42,720 $31,376 $11,344 26.6%

Dollar for dollar and as a %, it looks like being a public broadcast technician pays pretty well! No wonder we have all of those pledge drives! On the other hand, some occupations aren’t a good deal.
HIGHEST DIFFERENTIAL ($’s) PRIVATE over PUBLIC

Job (by total difference – lowest 10) Federal Private Difference % Difference
Optometrist $61,530 $106,665 ($45,135) -73.4%
Airline pilot, copilot, flight engineer $93,690 $120,012 ($26,322) -28.1%
Locomotive engineer $48,440 $63,125 ($14,685) -30.3%
Editors $42,210 $54,803 ($12,593) -29.8%
Physician assistant $77,770 $87,783 ($10,013) -12.9%
Computer support specialist $45,830 $54,875 ($9,045) -19.7%
Respiratory therapist $46,740 $50,443 ($3,703) -7.9%
Lawyer $123,660 $126,763 ($3,103) -2.5%
Physicians, surgeons $176,050 $177,102 ($1,052) -0.6%
Electrical engineer $86,400 $84,653 $1,747 2.0%

HIGHEST DIFFERENTIAL (%) PRIVATE over PUBLIC

Job (by % difference – lowest 10) Federal Private Difference % Difference
Optometrist $61,530 $106,665 ($45,135) -73.4%
Locomotive engineer $48,440 $63,125 ($14,685) -30.3%
Editors $42,210 $54,803 ($12,593) -29.8%
Airline pilot, copilot, flight engineer $93,690 $120,012 ($26,322) -28.1%
Computer support specialist $45,830 $54,875 ($9,045) -19.7%
Physician assistant $77,770 $87,783 ($10,013) -12.9%
Respiratory therapist $46,740 $50,443 ($3,703) -7.9%
Lawyer $123,660 $126,763 ($3,103) -2.5%
Physicians, surgeons $176,050 $177,102 ($1,052) -0.6%
Electrical engineer $86,400 $84,653 $1,747 2.0%

I don’t “see” why anyone would want to be a government optometrist! (Bad-bump-bump….thanks, be here all week…charge the gov’t rate, though!)

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John
John
11 years ago

I noticed this statement in the same article.
“State and local. State government employees had an average salary of $47,231 in 2008, about 5% less than comparable jobs in the private sector. City and county workers earned an average of $43,589, about 2% more than private workers in similar jobs. State and local workers have higher total compensation than private workers when the value of benefits is included.”

Stuart
Stuart
11 years ago

I read part of that study and was amazed that they put the benefits as a separate figure!
Cost is COST. One example was that a pubic sector employee got 40K a year in benefits as opposed to 12 or so for a private sector. It seems like it would have been more understandable to just put the total cost.
So, as a summary, it appears public salaries are not out of line, but the benefits are.
Lots of reasons for that – most of them having to do with high health care costs and the fact that the stock market has tanked over the last decade.

Ken
Ken
11 years ago

Marc,
When I worked for the Federal Government working for the Navy I was a GS employee but Rhode Island was exempted from the additional added pay differential because it was not considered a high cost living area. Normally a single Federal class rank or number has ten steps which take 20 years to reach the top level.
There are a lot of different ways to calculate the Federal wages depending which location you are working in and as you can see your wage group.
As far as healthcare benefits are concern I did not take the Federal because my private insurance was cheaper so you have people working that do not accept all the benefits package.
•GS: general schedule, competitive service
•GG: general schedule, excepted service
•WG: wage grade (Hourly workers)
•ES: senior executive service
New pay-banding systems that have replaced GS:
•ZA: National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Alternative Personnel Management System (APMS)
•Y Class: National Security Personnel System—used for Department of Defense (DoD) civil service jobs.
oFour Career Groups:
(1) Standard: YA, YB, YC, YP,
(2) Scientific and Engineering: YD, YE, YF,
(3) Medical: YG, YH, YI, YJ,
(4) Investigative and Protective Services: YK, YL, YM, YN
•IA: Defense Civilian Intelligence Personnel System (DCIPS)—used by the Navy and others
•VN: federal medical careers
•SV: Department of Homeland Security excepted service (i.e. Transportation Security Administration)
•AD: often used by DoD

Patrick
Patrick
11 years ago

“Lots of reasons for that – most of them having to do with high health care costs and the fact that the stock market has tanked over the last decade.”
Right, the private sector has special health insurance that the public employees don’t have access to, and is a lot cheaper. And there are those two separate stock markets too where the private employees can invest in the one that’s doing well, but the public employees can only invest in the one that’s tanking. Yep, that’s it.

michael
michael
11 years ago

I just had an epiphany. All of this public/private back and forth is going nowhere. The truth of the matter is, If roles were reversed, and private sector workers found themselves in public sector jobs and vice versa the arguments would remain the same but the sides would change. I guarantee it. Hence, this entire exercise is futile. I’m honestly not being a smartass.
Think about it. Nobody thinks they are being paid their worth, everybody bitches and moans about their situation. Nobody understands, nobody cares, nobody else could do this job, run this business, make these things, teach these kids…
Firefighter complaining is legendary. We actually complain about ourselves more that private sector people do. We think our hours are terrible, holidays, weekends, nights, Private sector people think our hours are fantastic, four days off, some weekdays, some weekends. We think private sector jobs get all the perks, lunch breaks, Christmas bonuses, tuition assistance, stock options, expense accounts and so on. Private sector employees look at our healthcare, pensions and security.
It’s a never ending cycle. Which is why most sane people choose to ignore it and go about their business.

Dan
Dan
11 years ago

Ignore a problem and it will go away. Brilliant strategy, Michael.

Stuart
Stuart
11 years ago

Ah, Patrick…if you need it spelled out more clearly, what I am saying is that many pensions and benefit packages in the public sector were locked in over time by both contract and actuarial MISTAKES – which did not assume we would have a great depression and that stocks would go nowhere for a decade or more.
The private sector can adjust quickly simply by firing everyone, declaring bankruptcy or cutting wages and benefits – which they have done.
The public sector cannot do this as quickly.
I put no blame on either sector – it is more of a RESULT than it is an INDICATION – at least IMHO.
With interest rates at 3% and stock market 10 year at almost 0%, we simply cannot make the same assumptions as before. The good times are over, in BOTH sectors.

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