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Journal of Economic Perspectives: Vol. 26 No. 1 (Winter 2012)

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Compensation for State and Local Government Workers

Article Citation

Gittleman, Maury, and Brooks Pierce. 2012. "Compensation for State and Local Government Workers." Journal of Economic Perspectives, 26(1): 217-42.

DOI: 10.1257/jep.26.1.217

Abstract

Are state and local government workers overcompensated? In this paper, we step back from the highly charged rhetoric and address this question with the two primary data sources for looking at compensation of state and local government workers: the Current Population Survey conducted by the Bureau of the Census for the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the Employer Costs for Employee Compensation microdata collected as part of the National Compensation Survey of the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In both data sets, the workers being hired in the public sector have higher skill levels than those in the private sector, so the challenge is to compare across sectors in a way that adjusts suitably for this difference. After controlling for skill differences and incorporating employer costs for benefits packages, we find that, on average, public sector workers in state government have compensation costs 3-10 percent greater than those for workers in the private sector, while in local government the gap is 10-19 percent. We caution that this finding is somewhat dependent on the chosen sample and specification, that averages can obscure broader differences in distributions, and that a host of worker and job attributes are not available to us in these data. Nonetheless, the data suggest that public sector workers, especially local government ones, on average, receive greater remuneration than observably similar private sector workers. Overturning this result would require, we think, strong arguments for particular model specifications, or different data.

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Authors

Gittleman, Maury (US Department of Labor)
Pierce, Brooks (US Department of Labor)

JEL Classifications

J31: Wage Level and Structure; Wage Differentials
J45: Public Sector Labor Markets
H75: State and Local Government: Health; Education; Welfare; Public Pensions

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