Government Workers in CA Make TWICE as Much as Private Sector Workers

money bagOn Tuesday, the California Policy Center released a study that provided facts about government compensation. It examined state and local payroll data provided online by the California State Controller and proved that the average pay and benefits for a full-time state/local government employee in 2015 was $121,843.

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At the same time, the study found that the average pay and benefits for a full-time private sector worker in California in 2015 was half that much, $62,475.

Moreover, the study found that if the pensions these state/local workers have been promised were being properly funded, their actual pay and benefits in 2015 would have averaged $139,691. And that elevated figure still didn’t take into account the impact of properly pre-funding their supplemental retirement health care, nor did it normalize for their myriad paid days off – typically including 14 paid holidays, 12 “personal days” and 20 or more vacation days as they acquire seniority. And let’s not forget the “9/80” program, common in California government but virtually unheard of in the private sector, where public sector salaried professionals can skip a few lunches and show up a few minutes early or depart a few minutes late each workday, and take 26 additional days a year off with pay because, every two weeks, they worked “nine hour days for nine days, then took the tenth day off.”

If you’re not counting, that adds up to 72 days off per year with pay for a seasoned public sector professional. The study didn’t take that into account.

Similarly, the study had to assume that fully 50 percent of full time private sector workers in California are getting excellent comprehensive health care coverage 100 percent paid for by their employer, a 3 percent employer matching payment to a 401K retirement savings account, along with making employer contributions to Social Security and Medicare (and even that does not occur for the millions of independent contractors working full-time in California). But the study made the 50 percent assumption just to ensure that the average, $62,475 per year, was not understated.

Finally please note that in the public sector, the study found that the differences between “average” and “median” total compensation are negligible, with the median often actually exceeding the average. Not true in the private sector, where the impact of ultra-wealthy individuals truly skews the average well above the median.

So welcome to Feudal California, where crippling taxes and regulations are destroying the middle class, while a burgeoning dependent class pays no taxes, and hence votes for every tax proposal they see. Welcome to Feudal California, where the super rich support policies designed to create asset bubbles that make them richer, and don’t care about taxes because they’re so rich they can pay them.

It’s not enough to merely point out the fact that government workers make twice as much as ordinary workers in California, and that the gap is widening. The problem is that the unions who represent government workers control policy in California, and those policies are the reason that private sector workers can’t get ahead. Every major policy in effect or being contemplated in California is designed to raise the cost-of-living, and while the private sector middle class is crushed, the unionized government workers make twice as much, which is enough to survive.

At the same time, the challenges posed by a high cost-of-living are almost entirely regressive, harming the poor disproportionately. It doesn’t matter to a wealthy person if their gasoline costs $2.50 vs. $4.50 per gallon, or their electricity costs $.04 per KWH vs. $.40 per KWH. It doesn’t matter to them if a home costs $150,000 or $650,000. They’re rich. They can afford it.

So instead of fighting to lower the cost-of-living, California’s wealthy elite makes common cause with government unions, working to create artificial scarcity. This creates asset bubbles that translate into more property tax revenue for governments, more investment returns for the pension funds, and gilds the portfolios of the wealthy. And if anyone objects, they’re “deniers.”

California’s elites – wealthy individuals and their government union allies – have cleverly employed the politics of race, gender, and environmentalism to enthrall millions. California’s citizens, by and large, have become convinced that identity grievances and extreme environmentalism matter more than the fact they are in debt to their eyeballs, living from paycheck to paycheck. In a brilliant inversion of reality, these feudal overlords have actually convinced Californians to attribute the reasons for their poverty on race and gender discrimination, rather than economic policies that have made it nearly impossible for anyone to be upwardly mobile – regardless of their race or gender.

The public sector union leadership that runs California is incorrigible. They have bribed their members, and they have convinced their victims to enthusiastically support a political agenda that itself is the real reason they are victims.

Ed Ring is the vice president of research policy for the California Policy Center.


  1. True Teacher says

    As a public school teacher, I don’t have a problem with this article or the website; I support it. This is an informative piece, Mr. Ring.

    But as I was reading it, I was thinking “I’m a government worker, but I’m nowhere close to being rich. Further, much of what I do earn is taken back in high taxes. I suppose the article will hint at my pension or benefits, but my pension won’t be that much either since I became a public school teacher nearly 16 years after college.”

    The teachers who will make bank in retirement are married to other teachers, both of whom will draw well over 60% of their final salaries, each, after retirement. So, did I err by leaving the private sector and losing most of my future Social Security income? Did I err by err by getting in to the public school game late? Or, by not finding a teaching colleague to marry? I won’t be able to retire, and living in Las Vegas has been on my mind more and more.

    I appreciate the CPC exposing how the rich liberals get to pat themselves on the back for “paying their share” when in reality they have first rigged the game for themselves. See, they get to accuse conservatives as tax-dodging, selfish and uncaring people while they benefit from crony capitalism. Studies show that conservatives give more of their own money to charity than do liberals.

  2. CA could save money on wages and benefits by replacing its “civil servants” with H1B workers on 5-year contracts paid at the statewide average for non-government employment.

  3. Hello.
    Great article! I also am a teacher but do not consider myself a government employee as I do not receive the benefits described above, I may be paid by the State of California and the District I work for but the similarities stop there. The wages for teachers are apalling. I live from paycheck to paycheck as well. My health insurance under Obama care in 2016, January, was raised 200%, going from 700$ in December 2015 to the 1500$ as of January 1st. We were told to expect another raise this year so I will find out how much that is when I receive my January check in February 1st.
    The district of Compton US did not contribute to our benefits in 2015,, or some previous years, until a State mediator was required to step in to direct negotiations for the Union with the District. Because of this, the District was required to contribute 300$ starting the following school year, 2017.
    This health insurance payment of $1500. Per month is backbreaking financially. We only receive 10 sick days per year. If teachers are out sick more than 10 days they are harassed and written up leading to disciplinary procedures even when they have a legally recognised medical condition that is addressed under the ADA.
    Additionally, I am still paying off my school loans at a cost of 400 a month.

    Teachers are not a part of the SEIU, which is the government employee union that is described above, but have district unions that are only as strong and knowledgeable about contract law and negotiations as their members, and very few teachers take legal courses in preparation for their credentials. Hence, very few members have any strength in this area, so when working contracts are negotiated, teachers continue to lose health benefits, salary increases and other important items that would benefit their lives and make their retirement years easier for them.
    So please take all of these things into consideration when teachers being public government employees. Our nations teachers are being forced into becoming an underclass financially. Some teachers work in dire and dangerous circumstances. They work with children, students, who are traumatised by the violence in their neighborhoods. They experience death, extreme poverty, hunger, loss of parents and changes in foster care families that uproot them and their emotional well being which impacts their learning.
    But the salaries of the district employees, the superintendents, the assistant dupertendents, the Board members, are outlandish. And it’s convenient the the Board members of the District are the ones who personally control, vote on and decide what those salaries are. This faction of the district can In fact form a small elite cabal to maintain constant raises and many benefits above and beyond minimal health care, to keep themselves in power over the District and financially empowered as employees of the District.
    I urge you to do a similar study on just this sector of all Districts. If I might make a prediction, I would offer that none of the members of this elite group will fall into the same financial category or economic group as the teachers that work for them, yet they have the least impact on the students, nor do they share the same working conditions that the teachers are required to work in and under.
    Thank you.

    • True Teacher says

      You have written a thoughtful post.

      Just a suggestion: have you looked at insuring yourself alone on the district group insurance plan? If you have children, it is cheaper to buy individual health insurance policies through Anthem.

      Good luck.

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