Civil servants have emerged as political bogeymen, scorned for their supposedly outsize compensation packages. In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie wants to cap their raises at less than 3 percent, while New York Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo warns that current pay levels are “unsustainable.” Support for state workers is perhaps weakest in California, where they were furloughed this year so the state could save about 15 percent in salaries. According to a new study, however, the wisdom of such policies may be lacking: the lowly government employee, it seems, is a pretty good deal.
That’s the conclusion of a recent report by the University of California, Berkeley. It crunched census data on 5,000 Golden State employees, and found they make about 7 percent less than their peers in the private sector. The gap is widest for jobs in law, finance, and engineering. But it’s apparent across the board, even though public employees are, on average, more experienced and better educated. Though benefit packages bring the compensation to about even, economist Sylvia Allegretto, who coauthored the study, says there’s no justification for targeting public employees; they’re “neither overpaid nor overcompensated,” she says. (A University of Massachusetts Amherst study reported similar findings for New England workers.) But, of course, while state laborers may be affordably salaried, they may also be too numerous—one criticism they can’t easily shake.