Sunday, December 21st, 2014

Are federal employees overpaid?

Is the average federal worker paid $120,000, twice the private sector rate? According to our research, not exactly.
Is the average federal worker paid $120,000, twice the private sector rate? According to our research, not exactly.

Rand Paul, echoing an argument made by many Republican candidates during the 2010 campaign, said on the Nov. 7, 2010, edition of ABC's This Week with Christiane Amanpour that "the average federal employee makes $120,000 a year. The average private employee makes $60,000 a year."

It's a striking statistic. But is it true?

We found that the answer to whether federal workers are paid more than private-sector workers is actually pretty nuanced.

The main problem with Paul's statement is that his numbers are roughly correct for the total of salary and benefits, but not for salary alone. And while it's entirely fair to discuss whether federal workers' entire compensation package is too big, we think most viewers would be misled by Paul into thinking that the average federal worker earns a salary of $120,000. They don't.

The further we dug into the statistics, the more interesting they became. A simple comparison between public- and private-sector pay is misleading, since the federal workforce is filled disproportionately with highly educated and skilled workers who inevitably command higher salaries. And even comparing the same job titles between the two sectors isn't necessarily an accurate contrast, since such comparisons don't factor in workers' experience levels or how much responsibility a job entails.

The numbers Paul uses are accurate, but most people hearing them would assume they referred only to salary. While critics may still be justified in arguing that federal workers are unfairly insulated from the economic trends that private-sector workers have had to weather, federal workers are not paid twice as much as their private-sector equivalents. So we rated Paul's statement False.