Selected Characteristics of Private and Public Sector Workers

Source: Gerald Mayer, Congressional Research Service, R41897, July 1, 2011

An issue for Congress and state and local governments is whether the pay and benefits of public workers are comparable to those of workers in the private sector. To deal with budget deficits, many policymakers are looking at the pay and benefits of public sector employees as a way to reduce government spending. This report provides a comparison of selected characteristics–including age, education, and occupation–of public and private sector workers.

From 1955 to 2010, employment in the private sector increased by 64.1 million jobs (from 43.7 million to 107.8 million), while the number of jobs in the public sector (including federal, state, and local governments) grew by 15.5 million (from 7.0 million to 22.5 million). Since 1975, however, the percentage of all jobs that are in the public sector has fallen from 19.2% to 17.3%.

Union coverage has declined among all workers, but the decline has been greater in the private sector than in the public sector. In 2009, for the first time, a majority of employees covered by a collective bargaining agreement were employed in the public sector. Private sector workers who are covered by a collective bargaining agreement are generally paid higher wages and receive more or better benefits than workers who are not covered by a union contract. In the federal government, except for the Postal Service and some smaller agencies, employees do not bargain over wages.

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