Public Sector Workers: More Education, Less Pay

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Many public sector jobs – such as teachers and social workers – require college or graduate degrees, while some of the largest private sector occupations – such as cashiers and waiters – require little formal education.

  • In the U.S., 27.4% of public sector employees have college degrees and 23.5% have advanced degrees, compared to 20.9% and 8.9% respectively in the private sector.
  • Policy brief: Public employee compensation

    In Washington, 48.3% of state and local government employees have a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 31.4% of private sector workers in the state.

  • The average age of public sector workers in Washington is 47 compared to 39 in private industry.
  • Overall, people whose formal education ended with a high school diploma or associate’s degree tend to earn slightly more in the public sector, but those with a bachelor’s degree or higher earn significantly less in the public sector.

The average total compensation gap for public service, including both wages and benefits, is 6.8% to 7.6% for state workers and 1.8% to 7.4% for local government employees.

Read more | Fact sheet: Public employee compensation »

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Posted in A Fair Deal at Work


  1. Winslow P. Kelpfroth says:

    This article would be a lot better if it included yet another statistic: a comparison of employee turnover rates between the private and public sector. Low turnover correlates to adequate compensation. High turnover correlates to inadequate compensation.

    • Other factors that also influence turnover include: the availability of health or other benefits (which may influence job choices or decisions to search for work), work flexibility (particularly for different demographic segments, i.e. parents vs. seniors vs. college grads), the overall job market (is it relatively easy or hard to find another similar job), home values (which affects people’s ability to move to/from jobs) and the economic/business cycle (affects hiring/firing cycles). Each of those factors has a different influence, not just on the public or private sector, but within those sectors as well (i.e., jobs in manufacturing jobs will be affected differently than those in accounting or nursing.

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