PoliGraph: Pawlenty public employee claim checks out

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This is the fifth and final in a series of fact checks this week reviewing former Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s book – Courage to Stand – as he tours the nation promoting it and exploring the possibility of a run for president.

Like many of his fellow Republicans, Pawlenty believes that public sector workers are overpaid.

Why are government employees making 22 percent more than their private-sector counterparts, plus enjoying better benefits and nearly perfect job security?,” Pawlenty wrote on page 276.

Pawlenty gets this one right, with a few caveats.

The Evidence

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), public sector workers – including all federal, state and local employees – make roughly 22 percent more in raw wages compared to the private sector.

Generally speaking, public sector employees get a wider variety of benefits as well, such as health care, pension and better paid leave. For instance, in 2010, it cost state and local governments an average of $13.85 per worker to cover benefits compared to an average of $8.20 in the private sector.

Many economists argue the disparity between private sector pay and public sector pay is due to the larger number of blue-collar jobs in the private workforce. These jobs pay less, effectively drawing down average wages.

Note that Pawlenty is talking about an overall average. In many instances, job-to-job comparisons show that public workers make less than their private sector counterparts. For instance, a lawyer working for the government makes an average of $98,120 annually, while a lawyer working in the private sector makes $137,540 a year – a significant difference. And government economists make about one-third less than their private-sector counterparts.

The Verdict

All in all, this claim is accurate.


The Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2009 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates by ownership: Cross-industry, private ownership only, accessed Jan 27, 2011

The Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2009 National Industry-Specific Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates: Federal, State and Local Government, accessed Jan. 26, 2011

The Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employer Costs for Employee Compensation – Sept. 2010, Dec. 8, 2010

The Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employer costs for employee compensation, September 2009

The New York Times, Are Federal Workers Overpaid?, by Nancy Folbre, Oct. 13, 2009

The Cato Institute, Employee Compensation in State and Local Governments, by Chris Edwards, Jan. 2010

The Cato Institute, Federal Pay Continues Rapid Ascent, by Chris Edwards, Aug. 24, 2009