Fox's "brain room" parrots Rand Paul's false talking points on federal pay

››› ››› ADAM SHAH

Megyn Kelly said Fox's "brain room" had found that "federal workers' average compensation is over twice that of non-government workers," a claim also made by Sen.-elect Rand Paul (R-KY) in a video clip she aired moments before. In fact, the statistic Kelly cited is based on a discredited apples-to-oranges comparison.

Fox claims federal workers make twice as much as private sector workers

Parroting Rand Paul, Fox claims "federal workers' average compensation is over twice that of non-government workers." During the November 8 edition of Fox News' America Live, host Megyn Kelly aired a clip of Rand Paul stating, "The average federal employee makes $120,000 a year. The average private employee makes $60,000 a year." Moments later Kelly said "our brain room pulled out some of these statistics ... Federal workers made an average pay, benefits of approximately 123,000 back in 2009. And federal workers' average compensation is over twice that of non-government workers":

KELLY: Well fresh off their midterm election victories, some Tea Party candidates are already taking aim at the folks who work for the federal government. Senator-elect Rand Paul of Kentucky suggesting one of the ways we can tackle our nation's ballooning debt is by cutting the federal workforce.

PAUL (video clip): I'm going to look at every program, every program. But I would freeze federal hiring. I would maybe reduce federal employees by 10 percent. I'd probably reduce their wages by 10 percent. The average federal employee makes $120,000 a year. The average private employee makes $60,000 a year. Let's get them more in line, and let's find savings. Let's hire no new federal workers.

[...]

KELLY: OK look, our brain room pulled out some of these statistics. Federal works pay, benefit, etcetera, has grown 36.9 percent since 2000. Guess how much its grown for the private sector - for private workers: 8.8 percent. So 36.9 percent for the federal workers; only 8.8 percent since 2000 for the privates. Federal workers made an average pay, benefits of approximately 123,000 back in 2009. And federal workers' average compensation is over twice that of non-government workers. It's twice that of non-government workers. When we say federal workers, we're talking about people we pay for - taxpayer dollars.

Claim that federal workers make twice as much as private workers is based on false comparison

Fox News' statistics about federal pay are echo misleading USA Today analysis. Fox News' statistics appear to come from an August USA Today article which cited data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis and reported that "[f]ederal civil servants earned average pay and benefits of $123,049 in 2009 while private workers made $61,051 in total compensation." Right-wing media seized on that report to criticize federal workers.

Politifact: Simply comparing federal employees' compensation with private sector compensation "is not an apples-to-apples comparison." From a February 3 Politifact article rebutting the claim that "federal employees are making twice as much as their private counterparts":

[I]t's important to understand that a big reason for the disparity is the different mix of jobs in the federal work force. It has more higher-paying white-collar jobs, experts told us, while there are more lower-paying, blue-collar jobs in the private sector that bring the average down. So it is not an apples-to-apples comparison.

USA Today article acknowledges that its "analysis did not consider differences in experience and education." The USA Today analysis compared the average pay and compensation for all federal employees to that of all private employees. The analysis did not attempt to determine if a private sector worker earns more or less than a federal worker with a similar job. USA Today noted that it's analysis of private and federal pay "did not consider differences in experience and education."

The average federal salary has grown 33% faster than inflation since 2000. USA TODAY reported in March that the federal government pays an average of 20% more than private firms for comparable occupations. The analysis did not consider differences in experience and education.

Bureau of Economic Analysis: "Skill levels and educational attainment tend to be higher" for federal workers. An August 18 Politifact article on federal pay reported that the Bureau of Economic Analysis -- the source for USA Today's data -- says that the numbers used by USA Today "do not tell the complete story," in part because in recent years, "the federal government is hiring more highly skilled workers who tend to make more money." From the Politifact article:

The BEA notes that its private-sector data includes employees of all professions. That means everything from minimum-wage jobs to the salaries of chief executive officers. Federal employees typically work in professional occupations that pay more, such as accountants, attorneys and economists, according to Congressional Budget Office research.

The BEA also noted in recent years that the federal government is hiring more highly skilled workers who tend to make more money. Many of the lower-paid positions, the BEA found, have been contracted out to the private sector.

Indeed, the BEA website lists "a number of factors that explain why average compensation for federal government non-postal civilian employees is higher than average compensation for private-sector employees":

  • The mix of occupations held by federal government civilian employees is different from that of occupations held by the entire private-sector workforce. The private-sector workforce are in a wider range of jobs than federal government employees -- from minimum-wage positions to highly paid CEOs. According to studies conducted by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), jobs in the federal government civilian workforce are concentrated in professional (e.g., lawyers, accountants, and economists), administrative, and technical occupations. In addition, skill levels and educational attainment tend to be higher, on average, for federal government civilian employees than for private-sector employees because of the occupational requirements in the federal government.
  • Over the past several years, there has been a shift in federal employment toward higher-skilled, higher-paid positions because lower-skilled (and lower-paid) positions have been contracted out to private industries. This trend has contributed to higher average pay for federal government civilian employees than for private-sector employees.
  • On average, federal government employees receive higher benefits in the form of pensions and health insurance contributions than private-sector employees; some private-sector employees receive no benefits.
  • Moreover, federal compensation estimates include sizable payments for unfunded liabilities that distort comparisons with private-sector compensation. For 2006, for example, the value of these payments for unfunded liability was $28.6 billion or 10.7 percent of total federal civilian compensation.
Posted In
Economy, Budget, Jobs, Wages, & Unemployment, Government
Network/Outlet
Fox News Channel
Person
Megyn Kelly
Show/Publication
America Live
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