Fox's Bolling Resurrects Falsehood That Federal Employees' Compensation Doubles That Of Private Sector

Fox's Eric Bolling repeated a long-debunked talking point that federal workers' total compensation is twice that of private-sector workers. In fact, the comparison does not account for occupation, education, or experience, and government salaries are based on private-sector pay for comparable occupations in a given region.

Bolling Falsely Claims Federal Workers Make Twice Private-Sector Counterparts

Bolling Claims USA Today Article Says “That Federal Employees Make Double Their Private Counterparts.” From America's Newsroom:

BOLLING: You know, USA Today late last summer put out a study showing that federal employees make double their private counterparts. In other words, if it's a librarian or a landscaper or a clergyman or a doctor, they're making double what they make in the private sector. Now we find this study, commissioned by Senator Coburn, a doctor himself, and we find that there are 77,057 employees in the states making more than the chief executive of those states. Look, it's government gone wild. Granted, Mr. Obama put a pay freeze, a two-year pay freeze on the employees, but they're already making double what the private sector's making. Look, we're $14 trillion in the hole. This is not helping the situation at all.

HEATHER CHILDERS (guest co-host): Yeah, and it's really unreal, when you know, for months and months, we've been talking about this, you know, the amount of money that government workers make, their salaries, compared to those in the private sector.

BOLLING: Right, right. If you add in the benefits -- now, the benefits account for four times what they make in the private sector for the same job, but if you put salary plus benefits together, the average federal worker makes $123,000, according to USA Today, and the average private-sector worker for the same job makes $61,000 -- less than half. It's just -- it's got to be the other way around. The private sector really needs to be the job growth, the engine of the economy. People should be paid more there, and paid less. Remember, what we're paying federal employees is our taxpayer dollars. So, we're earning it and giving it to them. [Fox News, America's Newsroom, 6/1/11]

Claim That Federal Workers Make Twice As Much As Private Workers Is Based On False 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 its 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. [USA Today, 8/13/10]

PolitiFact: Simply Comparing Federal Employees' Compensation With Private Sector Compensation “Is Not An Apples-To-Apples Comparison.” From a February 3 PolitiFact article:

[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. [, 2/3/10]

Bureau Of Economic Analysis: “Skill Levels And Educational Attainment Tend To Be Higher” For Federal Workers. From the BEA website:

There are 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.
  • 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. [, accessed 6/1/2011, emphasis added]

Wash. Post: "[G]overnment Sets Pay Scales Based On What Private Employers In Different Regions Pay For Comparable Levels Of Work And Experience." From a September 25 article in the Washington Post:

So are federal employees overpaid? It depends on who's measuring. Democrats say a public-private pay gap exists, but in the other direction: The government lags behind the private sector by 22 percent.

“If the American public knew the data that was the basis for these outrageous claims,” said John Berry, the government's personnel chief, “they'd see how ideologically biased it is.” With four out of five hires under Obama to defense and homeland security jobs and the Department of Veterans Affairs, “I'd ask, which one of those people would you like to fire?”

Critics cite data that compare all public and private jobs: Federal workers averaged $123,049 in pay and benefits last year, while private workers totaled $61,051.

Because the government workforce is more skilled on the whole than labor used by private companies that include McDonald's and Wal-Mart, comparing all jobs skews private-sector salaries down, government officials say. The government sets pay scales based on what private employers in different regions pay for comparable levels of work and experience.

A government lawyer generally earns less than a corporate one. When the same work levels are compared, private pay comes out ahead 22 percent, government officials say.

Data released by Berry's office do not offer a government average. But the figures show that a novice government nurse earns $46,148, more than a private one at $39,215. More experienced government nurses trail behind the private sector -- $84,652 compared with $124,239. [The Washington Post, 9/25/10, emphasis added]