Border War: The Wage Factor

We had a story last week comparing the retirement and health benefits of public sector workers in Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Those are the highest-profile points of the economic battle being waged between Wis. Gov. Scott Walker and the public employee unions in the Badger State.

But many contended the picture wasn’t complete without a look at wages, since bargaining units often trade one for the other — typically retirement benefits or health premiums in lieu of up-front pay. It was hard to run all that down in time for Friday morning’s story.

The reason: It’s very, very difficult to compare. No one in either state tracks health benefits for teachers overall. And while state-by-state wage data is available, it’s typically for individual occupations, without distinguishing between private and public sector workers.

That said, there are some jobs that are largely public. School teachers. Fire fighters. Cops and judges. Information on those is available from a single source, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Below you’ll find a table drawn from that data, for a series of jobs.

The bottom line? Mixed. For some jobs, like teachers, the USBLS said median wages in Wisconsin actually led Minnesota in 2009, despite Wisconsin’s comparatively generous pension benefits. For others, like court, municipal and licensing clerks (also likely public employees), Minnesotans get a pretty noticable 24 percent premium.

A few caveats here: the teacher numbers do not distinguish between public and private schools, although the biggest proportion are presumably public school teachers. The clerk numbers also do not distinguish between the differences in the judicial systems in the two states: Wisconsin has 252 municipal courts, as well as a state 10-district Circuit Court system. Minnesota has had an exclusively state court system since 1986. That may as well explain the wide disparity in the judge salaries.

At any rate, here are the numbers, ranked by USBLS median salary data in 2009.

Select Employee Wages in the Upper Midwest

State Median wage Mean wage
Elementary School Teachers, Except Special Education
Wisconsin $50,600 $51,240
Minnesota $49,960 $51,290
North Dakota $42,190 $42,880
Iowa $40,590 $41,720
South Dakota $36,790 $38,350
Secondary School Teachers, Except Special and Vocational Education
Wisconsin $48,650 $49,400
Minnesota $47,380 $49,210
Iowa $40,600 $42,270
North Dakota $40,420 $41,310
South Dakota $36,630 $38,070
Education Administrators, Elementary and Secondary School
Minnesota $93,180 $91,530
Wisconsin $85,240 $86,380
Iowa $80,330 $84,110
North Dakota $68,650 $70,960
South Dakota $65,470 $65,590
Court, Municipal, and License Clerks
Minnesota $39,390 $39,670
Wisconsin $31,830 $30,600
Iowa $31,010 $32,360
North Dakota $29,480 $30,260
South Dakota $26,260 $27,460
Judges, Magistrate Judges, and Magistrates
Minnesota $130,290 $121,430
North Dakota $108,850 $105,710
South Dakota $95,500 $90,650
Wisconsin $36,500 $46,320
Iowa $35,400 $52,180
Police and Sheriff’s Patrol Officers
Minnesota $54,470 $55,730
Wisconsin $52,120 $53,010
Iowa $46,020 $46,060
North Dakota $42,660 $41,750
South Dakota $40,060 $37,850
Fire Fighters
North Dakota $42,260 $43,130
South Dakota $39,380 $40,390
Iowa $37,540 $36,260
Wisconsin $29,560 $33,260
Minnesota $29,390 $34,060
Correctional Officers and Jailers
Minnesota $43,430 $43,760
Wisconsin $43,280 $43,680
Iowa $41,950 $42,090
South Dakota $32,640 $33,330
North Dakota $32,180 $32,310

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics. Data dowloaded 2/22/2011, dated May, 2009. Annual wages calculated by multiplying the hourly mean wage by 2080 hours; where an hourly mean wage is not published the annual wage has been directly calculated from the reported survey data. Data can be accessed at

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