Overpaid feds?


Cato’s Chris Edwards thinks federal employees are overpaid (h/t Alyssa Rosenberg at GovExec’s blog):

In 2008, the average wage for 1.9 million federal civilian workers was $79,197, which compared to an average $49,935 for the nation’s 108 million private sector workers (measured in full-time equivalents). The figure shows that the federal pay advantage (the gap between the lines) is steadily increasing.

This is a pretty useless comparison.

66 percent of federal employees are in higher-paid “management, business, and financial” or “professional” jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Only about 36 percent of private sector employees are in those categories.

That means the private sector has a much higher concentration of low-wage jobs, in areas like the service sector, which bring down average wages. The best example is Wal-Mart, the largest private-sector employer in the U.S., with more than 1.5 million employees. The most common jobs at Wal-Mart are “sales associates” and cashiers, both of them low-skill jobs that pay scarcely above minimum wage.

A more useful comparison would be to compare federal jobs directly to their private-sector counterparts. This is impossible in many cases, of course, since we don’t have many private air traffic controllers or Border Patrol agents.

So instead Edwards compares FAA air traffic controllers to Wal-Mart cashiers and complains that the former group is overpaid. Not very useful.


About Author

No Comments

  1. Pingback: Obama to Seek Cap on Federal Pay Raises | Austrian Economics Blog

  2. The comparison is not as useless as you think. If 66 percent of government employees are in management and professional jobs, then who’s doing the actual work? Sounds like our federal work force has become a bit top-heavy. Can it be that, in order to be competitive, private firms don’t have the luxury of promoting a majority of their staff to management and/or professional pay positions. Sounds like the servants are making more than their masters.

  3. Brookfield Bill on


    Wake up. Alot of firms have majority of their staff to management and/or professional pay positions and they are called professional firms such as law firms, accounting firms, medical practices. “Professional” does not equal “management” and looks like you don’t think professionals really ever work.

  4. How about Homeland Security guys that work the border making 80 to 90 grand for asking citizenship and what you were doing in Canada???? Where is the logic for paying that much for a guy to sit in a booth?

Leave A Reply