Public Employees Earn Substantially Less than Private Sector Counterparts

Public Employees Earn Substantially Less than Private Sector Counterparts

Thursday, April 29, 2010


Promoting Healthy Lifestyles Conference

Arizona Loses A Conference as NHCSL & NBCSL Protest Anti-Immigrant Law

Responding to the passage of Arizona's draconian anti-immigrant SB 1070, the National Black Caucus of State Legislators (NBCSL) and the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators (NHCSL) are pulling a planned Promoting Healthy Lifestyles Conference out of Arizona in protest of the bill.  The Promoting Healthy Lifestyles Conference will take place June 10-13 and a new venue will be announced in the coming weeks.



Public Employees Earn Substantially Less than Private Sector Counterparts

Refuting right-wing attacks on state workers, a new report by the National Institute for Retirement Security (NIRS) and the Council on State and Local Government Excellence (CSGE), Out of Balance? Comparing Public and Private Sector Compensation Over 20 Years, demonstrates that state and local employees earn an average of 11 and 12 percent less, respectively, than comparable private sector workers.

In the past year, 42 states have either slashed public employee wages, required furloughs, imposed hiring freezes, or cut state workforce positions.  The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) reports that since August 2008, state and local governments have eliminated approximately 192,000 jobs.  These types of actions not only diminish the quality of public service provision, but additionally hurt working families.

With the economic downturn fostering a renewed interest in public employee compensation and privatization schemes, this report serves as a critical resource to push back against some of the misguided claims that target state workers' wages as a primary cause of budget shortfalls. Some of the most significant findings include:

  • On average, public sector jobs demand higher education levels compared to the private sector. State and local government workers are twice as likely to have a college or advanced degree.
  • Although pensions make up a larger share of public employees overall compensation, state and local workers' total compensation is 6.8 and 7.4 percent lower than comparable private sector workers.
  • The public-private wage gap has only widened in the last 20 years. As the graph below illustrates, state public employees of comparable skill levels were almost reaching wage parity with private sector counterparts in the late 1980s, but their relative pay fell sharply during the 1990s.

The report also analyzes states with large populations -- California, Texas, New York, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Florida -- and finds that this general wage dynamic exists across the country. As the authors point out, "[t]his recession calls for equal sacrifice, but long-term patterns indicate that the average compensation of state and local employees is not excessive. Indeed, if the goal is to compensate public and private workforces in a comparable manner, then the data do not call for reductions in average state and local wages and benefits."

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Workplace Tragedies Point to Need for States to Take Lead in Workplace Safety

April has seen two major industrial accidents that have captured the national eye. Explosions at the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia and the Deepwater Horizon oil rig off the coast of Louisiana claimed the lives of forty workers and injured thirty-eight. Much of the media attention on these tragedies has focused on the culpability of employers and enforcement capacity at federal agencies responsible for regulating mine and offshore drilling safety. However, there are proactive steps states can take to address occupational safety hazards and ensure people do not have to sacrifice their personal safety in exchange for a paycheck.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) not only established a federal enforcement system, it also created a matching-funds program for states to operate their own safety enforcement programs. OSHA will provide a 50-50 match to help states cover the cost of enforcement programs that meet or exceed the federal agency standards. State participation in the program is crucial to enhancing enforcement capacity nationwide. For instance, OSHA does not cover state and local government workplaces, so there are currently an estimated 8 million public sector workers without occupational safety oversight. To date, twenty-one states have established qualifying programs, while four more states (Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey, and New York) have enforcement programs limited to covering public sector employees.

The AFL-CIO  released a report this week documenting the serious lack of federal safety enforcement capacity. The report analyzes recently published data by the Bureau of Labor Statistics which shows higher than normal casualty rates among immigrant and Latino workers, as well as construction workers. Nationally, the US has only 16% of the total number of inspectors recommended by the United Nations' International Labor Office (ILO). (The ILO sets a standard of one inspector per 10,000 workers. The US had only one inspector per 60,723 workers as of 2008.) Given this deficit, states have a powerful opportunity to bridge this gap by bolstering workplace safety enforcement that prevents work-site tragedies like those seen this month.

Under the Obama administration, the federal government is taking steps to improve occupational safety, but requires state cooperation to establish the necessary enforcement capacity. To this end, Congress introduced two pieces of legislation this year. The Protecting America’s Workers Act strengthens federal safety standards, while the Ensuring Worker Safety Act would enable a more cooperative relationship between OSHA and state safety agencies. The availability of federal matching dollars makes it possible for states to improve workplace safety at a manageable cost, when combined with innovative enforcement mechanisms that generate revenue for the state at low cost. For instance, private attorneys general provisions being included in wage enforcement and misclassification bills increase enforcement capacity by enabling workers to file claims using their own lawyers, with the state receiving a portion of the fines levied by the court against guilty employers. A similar provision in state occupational safety programs would assist states in ramping up enforcement capacity while limiting budgetary exposure. As with paid sick days, occupational safety programs can be an innovative, cost-effective step states can take to ensure that working and middle class families do not lose basic workplace standards as the economy improves.

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New State Laws Limit Reproductive Rights

Recent laws in Nebraska and Oklahoma highlight how a number of right-wing state leaders are attacking women's reproductive freedom.  These bills range from replacing the viability standard established by the U.S. Supreme Court, to forcing women to watch an ultrasound as their doctors explain the status of the fetus, to precluding women from suing their doctors if the latter misinforms women of the well-being of their fetuses.

Nebraska's Unconstitutional "Fetal Pain" Law:  Earlier this month, Nebraska enacted LB 1103, which changed existing law to define viability at 20 weeks on the unfounded theory that a fetus, by that stage in pregnancy, has the capacity to feel pain.  Nebraska’s law is the first in the nation to restrict abortions on this basis.  Exceptions to this law only occur in the event of a medical emergency, the pregnant woman’s imminent death, or a serious risk of "substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function":  a provision experts interpret as an effort to exclude an exception based on a woman’s mental health.

National advocacy organizations such as the Center for Reproductive Rights have vociferously expressed their opposition to the Nebraska law, which will likely set off a constitutional challenge before the United States Supreme Court, since the standards set in LB 1103 are based on the assertion that fetuses feel pain, not on the ability of a fetus to survive outside of the womb, the legal standard established by the U.S. Supreme Court.  Experts like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have noted that the question of pain felt by a fetus is an intense and unresolved debate among researchers and advocates on both sides of the abortion question.

In a letter to Republican Gov. Dave Heineman urging him to veto the bill, the Center for Reproductive Rights declared that LB 1103  was unconstitutionally vague, could prevent women from accessing essential reproductive health care, and threatens a woman’s constitutional right to choose to terminate her pregnancy.  It would also require doctors to violate medical ethics and standards of care.

If LB 1103 did not cause enough harm to women’s health, another Nebraska law, LB 594, requires health care providers to screen women for at least one hour for possible physical or mental risk before they get an abortion.  Another bill that is the first of its kind in the United States, LB 594, further restricts a woman’s constitutional right to get an abortion before viability.

Oklahoma:  Just yesterday, Oklahoma's conservative Legislature voted to override Gov. Brad Henry's vetoes of two anti-reproductive health measures, even after the governor signed two other anti-choice bills.

  • Mandatory Ultrasounds:  The first, HB 2780, will require women seeking to terminate a pregnancy to undergo a mandatory ultrasound as well as hear a detailed description of the development of the fetus.  No exceptions are made for rape and incest victims.  Although laws in other states require ultrasounds before an abortion, Oklahoma's new mandate becomes the strictest policy because the doctor would also have to describe the status of the fetus as the woman views the ultrasound image. 
  • Allowing Doctors to Mislead Patients:  A second law, HB 2656, prevents women who have a disabled baby from suing a doctor for withholding information about birth defects while the child was in the womb.  This law will protect doctors who purposely mislead a woman to keep her from choosing an abortion.
  • Other Bills to Discourage Abortion:  In addition, one law (HB 3075) was signed to require clinics to post signs stating that a woman cannot be forced to have an abortion, and another (HB 1595) makes it illegal to have an abortion because of the sex of a child.  Two additional bills are working their way through the Oklahoma legislature: one would force women to fill out a lengthy questionnaire about their reasons for seeking an abortion and another restricts insurance coverage for abortion procedures.  As Anita Fream, the chief executive of Planned Parenthood of Central Oklahoma elaborates, "These laws all have the same goal, and that's to discourage women from seeking abortions in the first place."  With so many restrictions in place, Oklahoma is taking a shameful lead position in violating women's constitutional right to make choices about their reproductive health.

It is even more unfortunate that Nebraska and Oklahoma are not the only places that are seeking to limit women’s reproductive rights.  A dozen other states are passing or debating new restrictions.  Elizabeth Nash of the Guttmacher Institute, a research group focused on reproductive health and rights, observes, “This year, particularly in the past couple of weeks, it’s really turned into a free-for-all on trying to restrict abortions.”  The Institute argues, "these measures are widely viewed as an attempt to provoke a legal challenge to Roe."

Rising Clash of Anti-Abortion Versus Pro-Choice State Policies:  While the Guttmacher Institute details that 20 states have laws that could be used to restrict the legal status of abortion, they also identify seventeen states, including some of the largest like California, Illinois, and New York, which broadly fund abortions for women on Medicaid, reflecting the wide range of state approaches on the abortion issue.  The fact that some states like Oklahoma and Nebraska are pushing such egregiously bad bills is a signal that other state leaders need to step up to protect and expand upon their own pro-choice approaches.

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Recovery Act Boosting Economic Performance and Providing Middle Class Tax Relief

The Council on Economic Advisers (CEA) recently released its third quarterly report on the impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).  The report generally confirms what economists across the board have concluded: the Recovery Act has prevented a full economic collapse; generated millions of jobs; boosted national economic performance; and provided sorely needed state fiscal relief.

The CEA estimates ARRA has created or saved between 2.2 and 2.8 million jobs, nearly half of which have been enabled by the tax relief and income support provisions of the law.  The report also finds that as a result of the Recovery Act:

  • government investment in high-growth areas, including infrastructure and clean energy, increased $16 billion in the first quarter of 2010;
  • real GDP began rising in the third quarter of 2009 and payroll employment started to increase in the first quarter of 2010;
  • first quarter GDP in 2010 is between 2.5 an 2.9 percent higher than what it would have been; and
  • approximately $110 billion in tax relief and $90 billion in other income support, like unemployment benefits and food assistance, directly benefited middle and lower income families

The last point is critical.  Not only has ARRA positively impacted the economy, it has offered real relief to working families in a time of extreme economic hardship.  As CEA Chair Christina Romer, relates, “[i]n addition to shoring up the overall economy... the Recovery Act has made a real difference in the lives of families.  The broad set of tax cuts and income supports enacted last year have clearly boosted consumption and employment growth in a way that has been absolutely essential.”  The table below illustrates that ARRA's tax relief provisions are predominantly directed towards the middle and working class and have helped reduce these families' tax burdens to the lowest levels they have been in decades.

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Research Roundup

America's Future: Latino Child Well-Being in Numbers and Trends -  Latinos account for over one in five of the nation's children, yet continue to face considerable obstacles to integration and form a growing share of those in the nation who live in poverty, according to a new report from the National Council of La Raza and the Population Reference Bureau.  Despite their parents' high labor-force participation rates, a substantial majority of young Latinos continue to live in poverty and substantial subgroup of Latino children "do not finish high school, get stuck in dead-end jobs, etc.”  The report stresses the importance of crafting integration policies that address this growing trend in inequality.

Rise of the Corporate Court: How the Supreme Court is Putting Businesses First - This report by People for the American Way examines how the current U.S. Supreme Court has systematically weakened or dismantled federal and state laws to protect the environment, workers rights, and consumer protections.  Notable examples include reducing jury punitive damages assessed against corporate lawbreakers to the recent Citizens United case which has undermined campaign spending restrictions on corporations.

The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) has two reports on how bad state tax systems tax the poor and increase inequality within those states:

  • Bad Tax Reform Ideas? Georgia's Got 'Em - This legislative session, Georgia is adopting tax policies that amount to "Robin Hood in Reverse" according to this report by ITEP.  State lawmakers are moving policies that would redistribute income from below-poverty families to cut taxes on the wealthiest Georgians.
  • Does Alabama’s Tax System “Redistribute Wealth?” Yes: From the Poor to the Rich - Unlike Georgia, Alabama is considering policies to ease the tax burden on the poor, but the reality remains that the Alabama tax system actively redistributes income away from those living below the poverty line and towards the state’s millionaires.

Americans Work Longer - Compared to other developed nations around the world, the US retirement age, which is currently 65.8 years of age, was significantly higher than the countries in the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, w averages of 63.5 years for men and 62.3 years for women, according to this snapshot by the Economic Policy Institute.

Poverty studies on older Americans, high school dropouts and better poverty measurements:

  •  Older Americans in Poverty: A Snapshot - 3.7 million older Americans do not have sufficient income to meet their basic expenses, according to this AARP Public Policy Institute report.  Social Security benefits serve as the main source of income for 59 percent of older adults in poverty, with nearly twice as many poor older adults reporting poor health conditions compared with the general elderly population. 
  • Helping High School Dropouts Improve Their Prospects - There is a striking correlation of dropping out of school and low future income -- adding up to a $700,000 lifetime difference in income between a dropout versus someone with only a high school degree.  This Brookings Institution policy brief evaluates a number of models for giving such dropouts a second chance to complete their studies.
  • A Modern Framework for Measuring Poverty and Basic Economic Security - While the Obama Administration discusses some changes in measurements of the poverty rate, this Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) report argues for a core "low-income" measure that is equal to roughly 50 percent of median income and another measure that would combine the low-income measure with indicators of deprivation, including hunger, substandard housing, and inadequate health care.

Road Work Ahead - Holding Government Accountable for Fixing America’s Crumbling Roads and Bridges - In this report, U.S. PIRG points to flawed infrastructure priorities and misguided policies as reasons for the poor state of the nation's roads and bridges.  State transportation policies are short-sighted and lack accountability with strong outside political pressure for new bridge or highway construction, but little outside pressure for preventative maintenance and regular repairs.  Several recommendations include a "fix-it-first" policy of timely infrastructure maintenance, requiring states to plan maintenance before receiving federal funds, rewarding states that work towards national objectives, and a prioritization of bridge and highway repair.

Evaluating the Sale-Leaseback Proposal: Should the State Sell Its Office Buildings? - In this analysis, the California Legislative Analyst Office (CLAO) assesses a recently enacted law that allows the Department of General Services (DGS) to sell and then lease back 11 state-owned office properties.  The sale-leaseback transaction would result in an immediate short-term infusion of capital, but would result in much higher annual costs, meaning such "a one-time sale of critical state assets is poor fiscal policy.

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Public Employees Earn Substantially Less than Private Sector Counterparts

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities - An Update on State Budget Cuts
National Institute for Retirement Security and the Council on State and Local Government Excellence - Out of Balance? Comparing Public and Private Sector Compensation Over 20 Years

Workplace Tragedies Point to Need for States to Take Lead in Workplace Safety

AFL-CIO - Death on the Job Report, 2010
AFL-CIO - Protecting America’s Workers Act
International Labor Organization — Programme on Safety and Health at Work and in the Environment
Nevada Rep. Dina Titus - Testimony on OSHA Legislation Before Nevada Legislative Commission Subcommittee
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) - State Occupational Safety and Health Plans
OSHA - Sec. 18 of the Occupational Safety and Health Act — State Jurisdiction and State Plans
OSHA - How does a State establish its own program?
OSHA - Directory of States With Approved Occupational Safety and Health Plans
Occupational Safety and Health State Plan Association (OSHSPA)The Nation - Hilda Solis: Labor's New Sheriff

New State Laws Limit Reproductive Rights

The New York Times - Nebraska Law Sets Limits on Abortion
The Guttmacher Institute - State Policies in Brief:Abortion Policy in the Absence of Roe and An Overview of Abortion Laws
The Center for Reproductive Rights - The Center Responds to Nebraska’s Extreme Anti-Abortion Laws
Kaiser Health News - States Move To Require Ultrasounds Before Abortions
Pro-Choice of Oklahoma

Recovery Act Boosting Economic Performance and Providing Middle Class Tax Relief

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities - Federal Income Taxes on Middle-Income Families at Historically Low Levels
Council of Economic Advisers - The Economic Impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009: Third Quarterly Report
Progressive States Network - 2.4 Million Jobs Supported by the Recovery Act - and a Depression Averted
Progressive States Network - Take Action: Additional Federal Job Creation and State Fiscal Relief Needed
The White House - New CEA Report Finds Recovery Act Already Responsible for about 2.5 Million Jobs


The Stateside Dispatch is written and edited by:

Nathan Newman, Executive Director
Nora Ranney, Legislative Director
Marisol Thomer, Outreach Director
Fabiola Carrion, Broadband and Green Jobs Policy Specialist
Cristina Francisco-McGuire, Election Reform Policy Specialist
Tim Judson, Workers' Rights Policy Specialist
Enzo Pastore, Health Care Policy Specialist
Suman Raghunathan, Immigration Policy Specialist
Altaf Rahamatulla, Tax and Budget Policy Specialist
Julie Bero, Outreach and Administrative Specialist
Charles Monaco, Press and New Media Specialist

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