After extensively analyzing wage and benefit date, the progressive think tank Economic Policy Institute finds that Wisconsin public-sector workers are under-compensated in wages and benefits when compared to their private-sector counterparts. Categorizing the wage and benefit packages of workers by educational levels–attaining high school, bachelor’s, master’s, doctoral, and professional degrees–Jeffrey H. Keefe contends that across the board, workers in the private sector make more than those in the public sector. As the level of education increases, so does the disparity between private-sector and public-sector compensation.
Keefe says, “On an annual basis, full-time state and local government employees in Wisconsin are undercompensated by 8.2% compared with otherwise similar private sector workers. This compensation disadvantage is smaller but still significant when hours worked are factored in. Full-time public employees work fewer annual hours, particularlyemployees with bachelor’s, master’s, and professional degrees (because many are teachers or university professors). When comparisons are made controlling for the difference in annual hours worked, full-time state and local government employees are undercompensated by 4.8%, compared with otherwise similar private sector workers.” (Are Wisconsin’s Public Employees Over-Compensated? Briefing Paper #290, Economic Policy Institute, February 10, 2011, 1)
These findings come as Wisconsin Governor Walker and state Republican legislators claim that the state needs to get public-sector wages and benefits “in line” with those in the private sector. If that were the case, according to this EPI report, Wisconsin’s public employees would appear entitled to pay and benefit increases. See the chart below from the report:
These statistics are important to keep in mind for additional reasons. For all the gains that public-sector unions have made, and Wisconsin is the birthplace of AFSCME, they still trail the private sector in key indicators such as compensation vis-a-vis education. Also, legislators and counter-protesters primarily consisting of right-wing Tea Party groups have increasingly employed rhetoric characterizing Wisconsin public-sector workers and the anti-proposals protesters as soft, pampered, over-paid, greedy, and destroying the economy. While myriad examples of this rhetoric abound, see the comment board for this story at the Minneapolis Star Tribune web site for such anti-union animus. This plays upon long-standing stereotypes of unionized workers, especially prevalent among the political right, as lazy and unproductive.
EPI has done more of this extensive research on public-sector workers especially in states facing rollback of workers’ bargaining rights, such as Indiana, Ohio, and Tennessee. We at the Illinois World Labor Hour plan to bring you more, both on air and here at the blog, in the days and weeks ahead.