Not what it sounds like:New study finds public workers earn less than private sector workers

In light of recent publicity about the salaries of government workers, the headline announcing a new study by University of Massachusetts researchers is intriguing: New Study Finds Public Workers Earn Less Than Private Sector Workers, Even Factoring in Benefits.

Dig into the news release announcing the results, however, and one might conclude the truth is not as startling as the headline. U of Mass researchers only looked at state and local government workers, not federal workers. And the researchers only looked at state and local government workers in New England.

For what it's worth, U of Mass researchers concluded that once education levels and experience levels are factored in, state and local government professional workers such as engineers and managers earn about 13% less than their private sector counterparts, and differential does change even if you factor in benefits such as pensions.

To quote the press release, "The lowest paid government workers do earn slightly more than their private counterparts (in other words, the state tends to pay its lowest-wage workers better than, for example, Wal-Mart does), but for engineers, professors, and the like, the wage penalty for working for a New England state or local governments rises to almost 13 percent. These wage differences are also found across workers with different levels of education: high school graduates in the state and local sector in New England, for example, have a small wage premium (less than 2 percent) relative to the private sector, while those with bachelor's degrees experience a wage penalty of 7 percent."

While the researchers' conclusions may be true, the real expression of public concern over government salaries has mainly been with those in the federal government. State and local government workers, as the phrase goes, are a completely different kettle of fish.

One other quote from the study authors deserves comment: "Thousands of state and local public employees will lose their jobs, and their families will experience considerable pain and disruption. Others will have their wages frozen and benefits cuts. Not because they did not do their jobs, or their services are no longer needed, nor because they are overpaid. ..."

Certainly true, but this only means state and local public employees are no different than the rest of us in private industry who have been living with frozen wages, benefit cuts, and our own "considerable pain and disruption." State and local public employees, if you aren't already a member, welcome to our club.

You'll find a release about the U of Mass study here:

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