Nice Work If You Can Get It

Sunday, August 13th, 2006

My Cato colleague Chris Edwards deflates the myth that those in public service are making some sort of sacrifice with a stellar op-ed in the Washington Post:

The Bureau of Economic Analysis released data this month showing that the average compensation for the 1.8 million federal civilian workers in 2005 was $106,579 — exactly twice the average compensation paid in the U.S. private sector: $53,289. If you consider wages without benefits, the average federal civilian worker earned $71,114, 62 percent more than the average private-sector worker, who made $43,917.

The high level of federal pay is problematic in and of itself, but so is its rapid growth. Since 1990 average compensation for federal workers has increased by 129 percent, the BEA data show, compared with 74 percent for private-sector workers.

Why is federal compensation growing so quickly? For one thing, federal pay schedules increase every year regardless of how well the economy is doing. Thus in recession years, private pay stagnates while government pay continues to rise. Another factor is the steadily increasing “locality” payments given to federal workers in higher-cost cities.

Rapid growth in federal pay also results from regular promotions that move workers into higher salary brackets regardless of performance and from redefining jobs upward into higher pay ranges.


According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the rate of layoffs and firings in the federal workforce is just one-quarter the rate in the private sector.


One sign that federal workers have a sweeter deal than they acknowledge is the rate of voluntary resignation from government positions: just one-quarter the rate in the private sector, the BLS data show. Long job tenure has its pros and cons, but the fact that many federal workers burrow in and never leave suggests that they are doing pretty well for themselves.

I’m sure there’ll be a flury of letters to the editor from federal bureaucrats defending their existence. But the vast majority of them are parasites. Not only do they add nothing to the economy, they actually slow it down, both by sapping tax dollars for their salaries, offices, and benefits, and by the very nature of their jobs, most of which raise the cost of doing business in America. Not to mention the amount of money American individuals spend on lawyers and tax accountants, either to lobby to make sure the sea of regulations are more to their liking, or merely to help them understand the law so that they can comply with it.

And that’s not even touching the damage the ever-expanding army of federal law enforcement officials is doing.

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