Never Trust an Average.

Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty makes use of broad averages to argue against public-sector unions:

Federal employees receive an average of $123,049 annually in pay and benefits, twice the average of the private sector. And across the country, at every level of government, the pattern is the same: Unionized public employees are making more money, receiving more generous benefits, and enjoying greater job security than the working families forced to pay for it with ever-higher taxes, deficits and debt.

Of course, that "average" is incredibly misleading; after you control for everything -- education, gender, race, compensation, and total work hours -- government employees are paid significantly less than their private-sector counterparts. And this holds true at every level of skill and expertise; public-sector doctorates, for instance, suffer a 21 percent pay penalty when compared to their peers in the private sector. 

If the public/private pay disparity seems to favor the public sector, it has less to do with existence of overpaid bureaucrats and everything to do with the stagnation of middle- and working-class incomes. But by directing their fire on public-sector employees, conservatives have pulled the impressive trick of redirecting class resentment toward government workers and away from more deserving characters, like the super-wealthy and their allies.

-- Jamelle Bouie

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