Good work if you can get it: Federal workers making 78% more than private sector counterparts

We’ve all seen the same headlines repeating for the last six years so often that it’s become part and parcel of the national milieu. Times are hard, wages are stagnant and pay isn’t keeping up with the cost of living. It’s tough out there to be sure, but there’s one segment of the American population where that doesn’t seem to be true. If you happen to work for the federal government – regardless of the job you hold, how well you perform or what happens to the market – you’re probably making way more than your counterparts in the private sector. (Government Executive Magazine)

Federal employees on average earned 78 percent more in total compensation than private sector workers in 2014, according to a new study from a conservative think tank.

The Cato Institute’s Chris Edwards compared data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis to show that, in his view, civilian federal workers are overcompensated. Factoring both salary and benefits, Edwards pointed to BEA data showing the average federal employee earns about $119,000 annually, compared to the private sector worker who earns $67,000 per year. When comparing just salaries, feds collect 50 percent bigger paychecks, Edwards said.

Back in 1990 the gap was smaller but still in place. Federal workers back then earned, on average, 39% more than private sector employees performing the same jobs. Owing to the rules of the free market, that shifted for a while during the tech boom of the late nineties, at least in a few sectors of the job market. When there were a limited number of workers skilled in a new industry, wages shot up and passed their government colleagues who were generally held to raises which follow a set formula.

Unfortunately, as Wall Street tanked and the market completely stalled, the private sector paid the price while the federal government kept on plugging along with slower, but steady increases in most cases. This led to what the study’s author describes as a situation where the Washington bureaucracy became “an elite island of secure and high-paid employment, separated from the ocean of average Americans competing in the economy.”

Of course, it doesn’t help that it’s nearly impossible to fire a federal employee.

Firing government employees is such a lengthy and complicated process that most agencies don’t even bother getting rid of their worst workers — no matter how badly they’re failing at their jobs.

The federal government’s ridiculously inefficient firing process is described and scrutinized in a report released this week by the Government Accountability Office. The auditors explain that the termination process for poor performing workers can take between 170 to 370 days depending on the situation. Sometimes the process includes counseling sessions for the employee, then a grace period during which the employee can attempt to demonstrate improvement.

Is this a situation which requires “correction” at this point? It may be a tempting idea, but I honestly would feel serious trepidation at the thought of tens of thousands of workers (who largely are not responsible for the actions of government leaders and decision makers) suddenly having their pay slashed in half. But by the same token, since the taxpayers are the ones footing the bill, future pay raises might need to be given a fresh look. Democrats in particular seem to be big believers in that whole “equal pay for equal work” thing, so what will they have to say about this? Until our glorious leaders figure out a way to get job growth back up into the +400K per month range and wages start rising, why should tax dollars go to an even greater disparity in wages?

Of course, no sooner than you mention such an idea, the public employee unions will be on the warpath threatening all sorts of mayhem if they don’t get the golden parachute they were “promised.” Good work if you can get it indeed.