- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 8, 2006

The typical federal worker in most mid- and upper-level jobs is paid in the neighborhood of 20 percent less than his or her private-sector counterpart, says an oft-quoted straight salary comparison by the Bureau of Labor Statistics for selected occupations.

That is the information federal workers use to highlight the “pay gap.”

But many private-sector employees and officials of both the Clinton and Bush administrations think it is nonsense, citing the value of federal employee perks such as inflation-indexed pensions, 26 days of annual leave and health care for life.

Now they too can back up their claim.

A new Commerce Department study says the average nonpostal federal worker makes just about double the figure for private-sector workers.

The Bureau of Economic Analysis considers other factors, such as the value of fringe benefits. It ranked compensation of feds at $106,000 on average last year, compared with $53,000 for their industry cousins.

Even when the perks are stripped away, the feds still come out on top in the study, making an average of $71,000 compared with $44,000 in industry.

What this means is that when friends and foe of federal pay raises make their case, one group will cite the Labor Department while the other will rely on Commerce Department data.

Starting older, ending earlier

For many years, Uncle Sam was the employer of first choice for bright new graduates. Not anymore.

The average age of new hires in government, once in the low 20s, is now 36-plus. It has increased by 2 years since the mid-1990s.

“If you have the opportunity to set up a booth in my building, don’t sell sports drinks or athletic supplies,” an Agriculture Department worker said. “Sell something like denture cream or support hose.”

Because of the increasing professionalism of government, with a decline in clerical and administrative jobs, more people are coming into federal service later. They either spend more time in school and/or check out the private sector before they settle on a government career.

Even as they are coming into government later, the average age at retirement appears to be declining.

A dozen years ago it was 61 for the typical nonpostal federal employee. The Office of Personnel Management now says it is just younger than 59, with the average employee having about 28 years of service at the time of retirement.

Whether the trend of older hires and younger retirees will continue is anybody’s guess, but it explains why people in some federal agencies stop in the halls when they spot somebody younger than 30 who is wearing a government ID badge.

Mike Causey, senior editor at Federal News Radio AM 1050, can be reached at 202/895-5132 or [email protected]

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