USA Today‘s lead story on August 10 was about the pay of public workers, a subject reporter Dennis Cauchon has complained about before. “Federal Workers Earning Double Their Private Counterparts,” the headline read, over a lead that reported that “federal employees’ average compensation has grown to more than double what private sector workers earn.”
Well, that certainly sounds unfair–some workers earning twice as much as their counterparts just because they work for the federal government! It’s hard not to agree with the source USA Today brings on from the right-wing libertarian Cato Institute, who says, “Can’t we now all agree that federal workers are overpaid and do something about it?”
Hard, that is, until you read the second to last paragraph, which reveals: “USA Today reported in March that the federal government pays an average of 20 percent more than private firms for comparable occupations. The analysis did not consider differences in experience and education.”
Oh. So when you look at “comparable occupations”–and don’t just put all federal workers up against all private workers, which is what the paper means by “counterparts”–you don’t get a 100 percent difference, you get a 20 percent difference. And that’s without adjusting for differences in experience and education, which you certainly have to do if you want to make an apples to apples comparison. At TheAtlantic.com (8/13/10), Derek Thompson interviewed two experts who did try to account for job categories, education and experience; the expert from the conservative American Enterprise Institute said that federal workers get 12 percent more in compensation than comparable private sector workers, while the expert from the progressive Center for American Progress said that they get 7 percent to 12 percent less.
But USA Today doesn’t even attempt to sort through the compensation for comparable workers. It wants you to focus on that “more than double” figure (which–it shouldbenoted–includes pension and health benefits as well as salary).
So underlying USA Today‘s front-page story is the assumption that in a fair system, all workers would be paid the same amount–regardless of what they do, or how much education or experience they have. The word for this system is communism–a more extreme version than the one they had in the old Soviet Union. Funny, we’ve never seen USA Today embracing radical economic philosophies–except when it comes to lowering public workers’ wages.
P.S. CBS Evening News (8/10/10) picked up on the USA Today story–leading the right-wing News Busters (8/12/10) to complain that “Only CBS Reports on Salary Gap Between Public and Private Employees.”