Are Federal Employees Paid Too Much ... or Too Little?

Are taxpayers "footing the bill for these federal employees while watching their own salaries remain flat and their benefits erode," as Florida representative Dennis Ross stated in discussion over a Republican call to get federal employee pay in line with private-sector pay? Or are they, as Democrats and the families of government workers themselves insist, underpaid compared to their private-sector equivalents?

The answer is, they're both right, although any demands to get federal employee pay commensurate with private pay will cost taxpayers, not save them. The AP's FACT CHECK explains it like this: Government employee salaries, on average, are indeed higher than private sector paychecks. The Federal Office of Personnel Management says the average federal worker makes $101,628 in total compensation, including benefits and pension costs, compared to $60,000 for the average private employee.So it's cut and dry, right? No ... you know what they say about statistics and lies. What the stats here are hiding is the sorts of jobs there are. Very few federal workers are lower-level employees; administrative assistants may work for the government, but the cafeteria and cleaning services and other low-wage jobs are contracted with private companies. Most government employees are lawyers, engineers, finance experts, scientists and managers -- the sort of people who would be paid far more than $100,000 a year in the private sector.

What's more, the cities in which government employees typically live -- take Washington, D.C. and New York as examples -- give even higher salaries for private sector folks. If you've had friends in law firms there, as I have, you know that starting salaries at most firms are in the mid-$100s ($160,000 in Washington, D.C.) compared to the 2009 average federal government pay for attorneys of $127,500.

Pundits, politicians and average Americans calling for parity between federal and private employees may want to hold their tongues, unless they're eager to increase government spending and taxpayer burdens. I'm sure the families of government employees, grinding their teeth as they sit in front of their taxpayer-funded TVs at night wondering if their breadwinners will get their paychecks next week, would be pleased to have some parity.
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