News Story

Statistics, Anecdotes Point To Public Employees Mostly Doing Better Not Worse

Pay varies by geographic area and job, but hard to make case that government workers are suffering

This year Michigan Capitol Confidential has published a number of reports on public sector employees in the state who are collecting compensation that many readers find shockingly high.

The reports include an electronic technician for the Detroit People Mover monorail train who collected $175,602 in 2017, a Grand Rapids police officer who was paid $132,994 and an Ann Arbor police detective who was paid $151,618.

While such pay levels are far from the norm in Michigan’s public sector, government employees have, on average, enjoyed 16 consecutive years of salary growth.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, average public sector salaries in Michigan have increased every year since 2001. The average was $36,405 in 2001, which had risen to $53,551 in 2017.

If adjusted for inflation, the average Michigan public sector salary in 2001 was equal to $50,387 in 2017 dollars. That means the actual average salary in 2017 of $53,551 was 6.2 percent higher than what government employees here were making 16 years earlier.

The average salaries include all government positions, including teachers, college professors, administrators, elected officials and postal office employees. Seasonal laborers are also included, so the figures may slightly understate the averages for year-round full-time employees, who tend to be paid more.

Nationally, public sector employees earn even more, on average, than their Michigan counterparts. The national average public sector salary was $55,625 in 2017, or 10 percent higher than it had been in 2001 after adjusting for inflation.

Statistics show that public sector employees are earning more, despite a national media narrative that they are struggling.

For example, The New York Times ran a story in April titled, “Public Servants Are Losing Their Foothold in the Middle Class,” which claimed that government workers are finding themselves “financially downgraded.”

The article focused on the low salaries of teachers in Oklahoma.

The Associated Press took the same tack when reporting on Oklahoma teacher salaries in June. The wire service’s story quoted Ken Hicks, the head of the political science department at Rogers State University.

“In my view it’s kind of a battle for the soul of the Republican Party,” Hicks said in the AP story. “I think a lot of the more ideologically extreme folks are not aware of the impact their decisions are having on the public sector, on the day-to-day lives of people.”