Republican legislator acknowledges state workers’ low pay

The big political story in Maine today revolves around two moderate Republican legislators criticizing Governor LePage for calling mid-level state workers “corrupt.”

Truth be told, these legislators both exemplify the continued presence and vitality of center-right Republicans in Maine and are an indication of the need for moderate Republicans to separate themselves from Governor LePage for their own electoral vitality.

But amidst the coverage of the corruption contrempts claims came an acknowledgement that is worth noting:

[Senator Roger] Katz said that a large percentage of state workers live within his district and he considered many of them to be his neighbors and friends. He pointed out that some make less than they could in the private sector and stay because they believe in public service.

Yes, Senator Katz told the plain truth: state workers “make less than they could in the private sector.”

Now, there are some who say otherwise, but they base their claims on incorrect methods of comparing salaries. What they do is to compare salaries paid in the public sector to salaries paid in the private sector and then find higher averages in the former.

But that is all wrong, simply because the occupational mix of the public sector and private sector are quite different. In the federal government, for instance, there is a much a higher percentage of Ph.D. research scientists, including biomedical researchers who often have both medical degrees and doctorates. (I know one of those M.D.-PhDs. employed by the feds and he is incredibly smart, driven and hard-working).

If you look at both public and private sector workforces, you see the private sector has many more younger workers, with less experience and education. Thus if you compare this group to the public sector workforce, with its higher level of education and experience and a higher average age, you’re comparing apples and oranges.

Even comparing people with the same degree gets complicated. For instance,

A pediatrician with a small practice in Des Moines and a doctor at the National Institutes of Health who is leading a team of 50 researchers trying to cure cancer both provide health care, for example, but we shouldn’t expect that they be paid the same.

But the biggest issue is that there is a higher percentage of highly trained and highly educated individuals working in government than in the private sector.

And, for them, government pays less than does the private sector. For instance, a 2009 compensation study by the University of Maine System, as well as data from the American Association of University Professors, reveal lower pay for faculty in Maine’s public universities compared to similarly-ranked private colleges and universities.

In any case, Senator Katz spoke the truth: State workers do make less.

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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.