Who’s overpaid?

Are government workers overpaid compared to private sector employees?


That’s the provocative question Chris Farrell, MPR’s chief economics correspondent, asked recently on MinnEcon.

Now, that question’s running just below the surface in the Minnesota budget crisis.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty recently called public employees “over-benefited and overpaid compared to their private-sector counterparts,” the Rochester Post-Bulletin reported.

This issue is always a tough one to navigate. So in the weeks between Farrell’s post and the governor’s comments, we reached out to MPR’s Public Insight Network to try and keep the conversation rolling.

We got some solid perspective from public and private sector Minnesotans.

“I would have been paid higher wages, but maybe had poorer benefits in the private sector. However, I was well compensated and have no regrets … I believed in what I was doing and was having an impact on society and the environment.,” said Loren Bergstedt, a retired civil engineer from Esko.

What people don’t understand is that there are many very committed employees in the public sector. They are there because they believe in what they are doing. They have many frustrations with regulations and the bureaucracy. There is also the bad impression many have of public employees.

Many (most) of my conservative friends never really believed I was competent because if I was I wouldn’t be a public employee.

Click on the map icons below to read what other Minnesotans told us, and then add your voice.

Brian Lueth, a credit union manager from Arden Hills, thought public and private sector wages were probably similar but that public employees enjoyed much better benefits — “no guaranteed retirement and health care ends when I leave my job.”

Farrell brought some national data to the debate that jibes with Lueth’s insight.


“The wage gap isn’t a worry. It largely reflects the rewards to education,” Farrell wrote. “However, there is a big difference between the private sector and the public sector: Benefits. The recent trend shows a disturbing increase in government worker benefits vs. the private worker benefits.”

Farrell’s already sparked some good discussion.

Given the governor’s comments and the current budget chaos, we don’t see the issue disappearing any time soon.

So let’s have at it. Post something below or contact us directly.

How do your wages and benefits compare to what you’d earn if you switched sectors? What should people understand when they discuss government wages and benefits versus private sector compensation?

If you could, what would tempt you to change sectors?

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