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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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Suggested Citation

  • Richard B. Freeman, 1987. "How Do Public Sector Wages and Employment Respond to Economic Conditions?," NBER Chapters, in: Public Sector Payrolls, pages 183-216, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberch:7154
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. 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 1110-1147, December.
    2. Bergstrom, Theodore C & Goodman, Robert P, 1973. "Private Demands for Public Goods," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 63(3), pages 280-296, June.
    3. Ehrenberg, Ronald G, 1973. "The Demand for State and Local Government Employees," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 63(3), pages 366-379, June.
    4. 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 806-817, December.
    5. Freeman, Richard B, 1986. "Unionism Comes to the Public Sector," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 24(1), pages 41-86, March.
    6. Smith, Sharon P., 1977. "Government wage differentials," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 4(3), pages 248-271, July.
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    Cited by:

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    2. 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.
    3. 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.
    4. Alan B. Krueger, 1988. "Are Public Sector Workers Paid More Than Their Alternative Wage? Evidence from Longitudinal Data and Job Queues," NBER Chapters, in: When Public Sector Workers Unionize, pages 217-242, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Simon Luechinger & Stephan Meier & Alois Stutzer, 2010. "Why Does Unemployment Hurt the Employed?: Evidence from the Life Satisfaction Gap Between the Public and the Private Sector," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 45(4), pages 998-1045.
    6. repec:eee:labchp:v:3:y:1999:i:pc:p:3573-3630 is not listed on IDEAS
    7. Simon Luechinger & Stephan Meier & Alois Stutzer, 2010. "Why Does Unemployment Hurt the Employed?: Evidence from the Life Satisfaction Gap Between the Public and the Private Sector," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 45(4), pages 998-1045.
    8. Richard B. Freeman & Robert Valletta, 1988. "The Effects of Public Sector Labor Laws on Labor Market Institutions and Outcomes," NBER Chapters, in: When Public Sector Workers Unionize, pages 81-106, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. Holtz-Eakin, Douglas & Rosen, Harvey S, 1991. "Municipal Labor Demand in the Presence of Uncertainty: An Econometric Approach," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 9(3), pages 276-293, July.
    10. Koirala, Niraj Prasad & Ma, Xiaohan, 2020. "Oil price uncertainty and U.S. employment growth," Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 91(C).
    11. Steven F. Venti, 1987. "Wages in the Federal and Private Sectors," NBER Chapters, in: Public Sector Payrolls, pages 147-182, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    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.
    13. Maczulskij, Terhi, 2013. "Public–private sector wage differentials and the business cycle," Economic Systems, Elsevier, vol. 37(2), pages 284-301.
    14. 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.

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