In his Nov. 13 column, published by Newsmax and WorldNetDaily, Pat Boone writes:
I propose the reduction of all government salaries to the average income of most Americans. The sad facts are that not only does the government employ, full-time or in part, almost 40 percent of all workers, but while the average non-government worker makes $65,000 a year, the average federal employee makes $130,000! And with amazing retirement benefits that combine to cost the taxpayers billions – billions they can't afford for themselves. So obviously, we can, and must, cut big government by half, at least.
(WND curiously lops off "by half, at least.")
As he has been about so many other things, Boone is wrong about federal salaries. PolitiFact.com reported on a similar claim made by Rand Paul, used a smaller set of numbers, $60,000 for private workers and $120,000 for government employees (Boone mysteriously inflated the numbers) and declared it to be false:
However, that figure includes both salary and benefits. This is a legitimate number to raise, but using it requires more explanation than Paul gave it. Since most people usually think about how much they, their spouses and their colleagues get paid in salary alone -- not salary plus benefits -- we think most people hearing this statement would assume that Paul means that the average federal employee gets paid a salary of $120,000. That's simply not true.
That said, there's still a gap between federal and private-sector pay if you strip out the portion that's in the form of benefits. BEA found that federal civilian employees earned $81,258 in salary, compared to $50,464 for private-sector workers. That cuts the federal pay advantage almost exactly in half, to nearly $31,000.
Case closed? Not at all. Several additional caveats are required.
The first is that there's an imbalance in the types of jobs that make up the federal workforce compared to the private-sector workforce. The federal workforce is disproportionately composed of employees with higher educational attainment. Think of all the low-wage burger-flippers, gas station attendants and domestic workers in the private-sector economy. The federal government has some of these types of employees but proportionately far fewer -- especially after nearly two decades of aggressive contracting-out of duties that need not be handled by salaried federal employees. This has further expanded the federal government's disproportionately large numbers of lawyers, scientists and other highly skilled professionals.
If the federal sector today is hiring a lot of people with specialized expertise and the private sector is hiring a lot of people with skills that don't require a college, or even a high school, degree, then it's no surprise that the average salary levels in each sector are going to be at odds.
Gary Burtless, a labor economist with the centrist-to-liberal Brookings Institution, said that "there are certainly many positions where the federal job is compensated less generously than comparable positions in the private sector. These tend to be the most demanding jobs in the federal service -- doctors, attorneys, scientists and senior executives. The U.S. Secretary of Education, for example, is paid far less than the presidents of major public and private universities, even though he has far greater responsibility."
In short, federal workers make more in large part because they're more highly skilled as a whole than private employees. Boone didn't see fit to tell his readers that.