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How Do Public Sector Wages and Employment Respond to Economic Conditions?

In: Public Sector Payrolls

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  • Richard B. Freeman

Abstract

This paper examines the changes over time in public sector wages and employment relative to private sector wages and employment using data from surveys of establishments and individuals. The paper finds that:(1) The pay of public sector workers relative to private sector workers varies greatly over time. Contrary to the view that public sector payis inflexible, variations in relative pay are due as much to fluctuations in public pay as to fluctuations in private pay.(2) The relatively high paid public sector worker of the early 1970s has within the span of a decade lost much of his or her advantage over otherwise comparable private sector workers, seriously denting if not destroying the picture of the 'overpaid' public employee which developed in the early 1970s.The group of public sector workers who tend to be most highly paid in the U.S. relative to private sector workers are blacks and women, suggesting that the public sector discriminates less than does the private sector.(3) Differentials in public and private sector pay vary greatly depending on the nature of comparisons, with for example Current Populations Survey comparisons of individuals with similar broad human capital showing federal employees to be higher paid than private employees and Bureau of Labor Statistics surveys of wage rates in particular occupations showing federal workers to be lower paid.(4) Public sector employment follows a very different pattern of change than private sector employment. It has smaller annual variation, and moves counter cyclically rather than cyclically. In terms of demographic composition the public sector employs relatively more blacks and women than the private sector.

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This chapter was published in:

  • David A. Wise, 1987. "Public Sector Payrolls," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number wise87-1, octubre-d.
    This item is provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Chapters with number 7154.

    Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberch:7154

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    References

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    1. Courant, Paul N & Gramlich, Edward M & Rubinfeld, Daniel L, 1979. "Public Employee Market Power and the Level of Government Spending," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 69(5), pages 806-17, December.
    2. Borjas, George J, 1980. "Wage Determination in the Federal Government: The Role of Constituents and Bureaucrats," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 88(6), pages 1110-47, December.
    3. Freeman, Richard B, 1986. "Unionism Comes to the Public Sector," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 24(1), pages 41-86, March.
    4. Ehrenberg, Ronald G, 1973. "The Demand for State and Local Government Employees," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 63(3), pages 366-79, June.
    5. Smith, Sharon P., 1977. "Government wage differentials," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 4(3), pages 248-271, July.
    6. Bergstrom, Theodore C & Goodman, Robert P, 1973. "Private Demands for Public Goods," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 63(3), pages 280-96, June.
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    Cited by:
    1. Holtz-Eakin, D. & Rosen, H.S., 1989. "Municipal Labor Demand In The Presence Of Uncertainty: An Econometric Approach," Discussion Papers 1989_17, Columbia University, Department of Economics.
    2. Maczulskij, Terhi, 2013. "Public–private sector wage differentials and the business cycle," Economic Systems, Elsevier, vol. 37(2), pages 284-301.
    3. Simon Luechinger & Stephan Meier & Alois Stutzer, 2008. "Why Does Unemployment Hurt the Employed?: Evidence from the Life Satisfaction Gap between the Public and Private Sectors," SOEPpapers on Multidisciplinary Panel Data Research 106, DIW Berlin, The German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP).
    4. Steven F. Venti, 1985. "Wages in the Federal and Private Sectors," NBER Working Papers 1641, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Christofides, Louis N. & Pashardes, Panos, 2002. "Self/paid-employment, public/private sector selection, and wage differentials," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 9(6), pages 737-762, December.
    6. Alan Krueger, 1987. "Are Public Sector Workers Paid More Than Their Alternative Wage? Evidence from Longitudinal Data and Job Queues," Working Papers 605, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
    7. Rebecca M. Blank, 1993. "Public Sector Growth and Labor Market Flexibility: The United States vs. The United Kingdom," NBER Working Papers 4339, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. repec:fth:prinin:225 is not listed on IDEAS
    9. repec:fth:prinin:282 is not listed on IDEAS
    10. Richard B. Freeman & Robert G. Valletta, 1987. "The Effect of Public Sector Labor laws on Collective Bargaining, Wages, and Employment," NBER Working Papers 2284, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    11. Luechinger, Simon & Meier, Stephan & Stutzer, Alois, 2008. "Why Does Unemployment Hurt the Employed? Evidence from the Life Satisfaction Gap between the Public and the Private Sector," IZA Discussion Papers 3385, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    12. Peeters, Marga, 2011. "Demographic pressure, excess labour supply and public-private sector employment in Egypt - Modelling labour supply to analyse the response of unemployment, public finances and welfare," MPRA Paper 31101, University Library of Munich, Germany.

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