More Government Employees Paid Twice Average Salary, Because They're That Damn Good


Reader Mark Sletten sends in some information on public servant salaries in the Land of Lincoln that shows a continuation of the government employee double bonus.

According to BND.com

State workers from the metro-east averaged $61,372 last year. Topping the payroll were three Illinois Department of Human Services doctors and Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier, all passing the $200,000 mark.

How do these numbers stack up against pay for the rest of Illinois? According to the U.S. Census Bureau, per capita income for Illinois residents rang in at $28,782 in 2010. Median household income came to $55,735. 

This type of premium for state employment on its face appears to violate the consensus that government work is best compensated by small immediate income but large deferred benefits. Instead, government employees in the 21st century make more both now and later. 

A popular creed holds that government employees merit this premium because their flames are polished to a harder, more gemlike finish. Andrew Cannon in his 2011 Apples to Apples study concluded that paying more for the same work is cost effective once taxpayers account for "the differences in education, work experience and occupation between a public-school teacher and a teen-ager working for the minimum wage at a fast-food restaurant."

But soft! While the pay rate for taxpayer-funded doctors in Illinois is high, it's within the ball park. Salary.com estimates median physician salary nationwide at $175,161. WebMD's MedScape puts median compensation for physicians in the Lake States at $201,500 in its Physician Compensation Report 2011. I showed in April that the widest differentials are between low-skilled private sector and low-skilled public sector jobs. A janitor working for Uncle Sam makes $30,110 a year, while his or her private-sector peer makes $24,188. That's at the federal level. Now we appear to have a report indicating the lowskill premium occurs in state employment as well. 

There may be labor-theory-of-value arguments for a government to be relatively generous toward less skilled workers. Cleaning public facilities, the taxpayers might decide, is so much less pleasant than cleaning private property that government needs to pay more for its sanitation engineers. But Apples/Oranges experts are not making that argument. They're claiming these high salaries are the result of open competition in an undistorted marketplace.