Report: Take WA State Workers Off the Chopping Block

March 7, 2011 | Economic Opportunity Institute

From the Public News Service:

SEATTLE – Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker may be facing off against his state’s workers over the budget crunch, but in Washington state, a new report says there’s no need for that. It also reinforces President Obama’s recent advice to governors to not blame state employees, or their unions, for the state budget shortfalls.

Analyzing multiple studies on wages and benefits, the Economic Opportunity Institute (EOI) has found that most state workers are underpaid compared to their private-sector counterparts, by an average of about seven percent.

Marilyn Watkins, EOI policy director and report co-author, says almost half of public employees in Washington have college degrees, but that is not reflected in their paychecks.

“With a four-year bachelor’s degree they earn about $23,000 less on average, their total compensation package, than somebody with a comparable level of education and experience and type of position in the private sector.”

Watkins says the gap is widest for the jobs that require the most education. Attorneys, for example, make about $70,000 a year more in private practice than they can working for the state. According to the research, the only place public employees do a little better in Washington is in those jobs that require no higher education.

Some are quick to take aim at the benefit packages that unions negotiate for their members. But Watkins says to get the whole picture, the research compared both benefits and wages.

“The way that averages out, the total compensation package is still, overall, lower in the public sector. But a lot of the criticism has been aimed exclusively at the benefits side of it, without taking the wage side as part of the equation.”

The report concludes that if state workers’ job losses, wage freezes and mandatory furloughs continue, it will slow Washington’s economic recovery. It is online at www.eoionline.org.

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