Matthew Yglesias provides a great explanation of how conservatives try to argue that federal workers are overpaid:
…this AEI working paper (PDF) [that’s] dedicated to the proposition that federal employees are “overpaid” seems to me to actually offer evidence that the federal pay scale is too stingy.
The authors describe the federal government’s official methodology:
The process is complex, but the Pay Agent essentially seeks to assign a general schedule (GS) level to a variety of private sector jobs within a broad set of occupational categories. Salaries for these jobs are then compared to salaries for federal positions at the same GS level. Private sector jobs assigned to a given GS level are typically seen to be more highly paid than their federal counterparts.
They characterize the Pay Agent’s method as concluding that federal workers are “underpaid.” But they criticize this method:
[T]he Pay Agent’s approach fails to account for different skill levels that private and public workers may possess in seemingly similar jobs. More specifically, there is evidence that the federal government hires workers at higher positions than they could hold in the private sector and then promotes them more quickly as well. This means, for example, that a senior accountant in government might qualify only as a junior accountant in the private sector.
What’s AEI saying?
- The federal government needs to fill some jobs. But it offers salaries that are less than the salaries that a person doing a similar job could get in the private sector.
- Naturally, this means that the federal government ends up attracting less-experienced applicants.
- Hiring is then done from this less-experienced pool.
- And since the people who are hired are doing jobs they’d be [initially] underqualified for in the private sector, they are making more money than they would be in the private sector.
- CONCLUSION: federal workers are overpaid!
Would higher federal salaries attract more experience — and then would public / private pay be more equal in the eyes of conservative groups like AEI? Probably not — this argument about public sector employees isn’t about pay equity anyway. This is just more of what Robert Reich calls “The Republican Strategy,” which is – in part:
The Republican strategy is to split the vast middle and working class – pitting unionized workers against non-unionized, public-sector workers against non-public, older workers within sight of Medicare and Social Security against younger workers who don’t believe these programs will be there for them, and the poor against the working middle class.
By splitting working America along these lines, Republicans hope to deflect attention from the big story. That’s the increasing share of total income and wealth going to the richest 1 percent while the jobs and wages of everyone else languish.
Divide and conquer for fun and profit.