No apples to oranges mistake here

Thank you, Maine Housing Authority!

One of my pet peeves in policy and political discussions involves comparing apples and oranges. As anyone who’s taken fourth grade math knows, this is a big no-no.  

This happens all over the place, but there’s one place I’ve seen it a lot, including in Maine politics.

Every so often some organization or public figure complains that public workers are getting paid TOO MUCH!! 

How do they know it’s too much? Well, they either publish the salary figures (sometimes with benefits) and assert it’s too much — or they compare apples to oranges.  

The silliest is when people working in one agency are compared to the “private sector,” which includes vastly different sorts of workers — different levels of education, ages, professional longevity, etc.

Well, upon request from the Maine Heritage Policy Center, the conservative group that is very influential in today’s Maine politics (and which doesn’t disclose anything about its own operations), the Maine Housing Authority released its salary data.

And it did it in the most appropriate and intelligent way, providing context to its data.

Thus the reader learns:

In 2010, MaineHousing employees were paid on average 15 percent less than the comparable statewide average. It has been a longstanding policy of MaineHousing that salaries stay at 6 percent or below the comparable statewide average. When years of experience only at MaineHousing are taken into account, MaineHousing salaries fall to 25.7 percent below the comparable market position with the same level of experience.

Even more, it disclosed its sources of data and methods:

The lists include a chart to compare MaineHousing salaries with those earned by people in similar positions and within the same range of years of experience. MaineHousing put together this chart using Standard Occupational Classifications (SOC) compiled by the Maine Department of Labor.

And, at the same time, the organization respected people’s privacy:

“It’s important for the public to see what we pay for positions in our organization. We also strongly believe our employees have a right to privacy,” said Dale McCormick, executive director of MaineHousing. “We balanced these two goals by listing job titles rather than staff names along with their respective salaries on our website.”

Bravo, Maine Housing Authority and Dale McCormick! Bravo for proper data presentation! Bravo for raising public knowledge in a sensible way!


Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.