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federal vs private sector compensation

The right is going to push the new CBO study (PDF) comparing compensation for federal and private sector workers as showing that federal workers earn more than private sector workers and are therefore, by definition, overpaid. But while the CBO does find that federal workers, on average, earn more in wages and benefits than similar private sector workers, that's not the important story it tells.

Look at the graph at the right. It compares federal and private sector wages and benefits for workers at different levels of education. Federal workers with a high school diploma or some college earn more in wages and benefits than private sector workers. For workers with bachelor's degrees, wages are just about tied, but federal workers have better benefits. By the time you get to a master's degree, private sector workers are earning slightly more in wages, though their benefits still fall short. Workers with a professional degree or doctorate get just about the same amount of benefits in the private sector and the federal government—but those in the private sector make substantially more in wages. So while, overall, the government pays 16 percent more in total compensation than the private sector would for comparable workers, that's stratified. The government pays 36 percent more to workers with a high school diploma or less, and 18 percent less to workers with a professional degree or doctorate.

Aside from the general desire to target any and all evidence of competent governance, in other words, Republican outrage about overpaid federal workers is about the fact that the floor isn't as low as they want it to be. The ceiling on what federal workers make is a lot lower than it is for private sector workers. But the floor—what a federal custodian or groundskeeper with a high school diploma makes—still includes good health care and a pension, and to the right, that's a waste.

This comparison between private and federal compensation isn't just a reflection of reality right now. It's a map of where Republicans want us to go—to them, the greater inequality of the private sector is a model, and the fact that all federal government employees are making enough to live on even if they get sick or old is an abomination.

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Originally posted to Daily Kos Labor on Tue Jan 31, 2012 at 07:22 AM PST.

Also republished by ClassWarfare Newsletter: WallStreet VS Working Class Global Occupy movement and Daily Kos.

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