Continued from page 1

To be fair, most public-sector retirees don’t get such rich pensions. New Jersey’s Treasury Department says the average annual pension due state workers who retired between July 2009 and June 2010 was just over $30,000 per year; for local government employees, it was about $20,000.

And the members of the state’s two biggest public-employee retirement systems are required to pay 5.5 percent of their base salaries into the pension funds.

Mr. Gregory says the rest of the benefits are deferred compensation promised to workers instead of better salaries.

National data compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics confirms that public-sector workers do better when it comes to pensions and benefits.

As of September 2010, professional and management workers in the private sector were making $34.91 in hourly salary; public-sector professionals made $33.17 an hour.

The government entities spent 1.7 times as much on health care per employee-hour worked and nearly twice as much on retirement costs. Public-sector workers, who are more often represented by unions, are far more likely to have defined-benefit pensions with promises to pay for the retirees’ whole lives.

Olivia Mitchell, a professor of insurance and risk management at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, says the data isn’t perfect. It doesn’t compare workers with the same education or experience levels, and it covers a broad range of jobs. Also, she said, it doesn’t take into account that about one-fourth of public emplyees aren’t covered by Social Security.

There’s one clear downside for public employees: “We also know that the public-sector pensions are in deep trouble financially,” Miss Mitchell said, pointing to studies that suggest that they’re underfunded by a total of $3 trillion, largely because governments have skipped payments.

Unchanged, those retirement systems could eventually stop paying entirely.

“One way or another, if we don’t make changes, the government will collapse,” said Abel Stewart, 36, of Toledo, Ohio.

Mr. Stewart, director of contemporary worship at a Methodist church in suburban Toledo, says he has a hard time conjuring up sympathy for government and private-sector workers he’s seen protesting because of all the time he’s spent working with struggling immigrants.

“These are middle-class people who have a house, who have enough food, who are complaining they don’t have enough,” he said. “Instead of fighting for the piece of the political pie, we’d be better off looking at how to live within our means.”

AP writers Carrie Antlfinger and John Seewer contributed to this report.