Pro-union study twists stats, takes public for saps

California’s public employee unions have taken the public for suckers for years, so it’s understandable they now think they can play us for fools.

A study released Monday by a pro-union think tank purports to show that public employees receive less total compensation than their counterparts in the private sector. Unfortunately, it is being depicted as a serious analysis that debunks public hysteria about compensated public employees. But it’s nothing of the sort.

The researchers didn’t look at, say, a private sector janitor with a set amount of experience and compare his total compensation package to a similarly skilled janitor in the public sector. “Instead, the study relied on education levels — ‘the single most important earnings predictor’ — and other factors widely found to affect compensation levels, such as gender, race, ethnicity and disability, to compare the two sectors,” reported a Bay Area newspaper. The study, “The Truth About Public Employees In California: They Are Neither Overpaid Nor Overcompensated,” produced by the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, averaged out each group and then adjusted for education and other factors.

I know someone with multiple degrees in various subjects who has few marketable skills and therefore has a low-level job. The researchers would assume that such a person should have an extremely high salary because of his credentials. That’s the basic problem, but the study is undermined by other flaws. The researchers leave out low-paid agricultural workers and small business owners, who work long hours and have few benefits. Controlling for hours allows them to ignore the overtime abuse common in the public sector.

James Sherk, a labor economist at the Heritage Foundation, notes that the study doesn’t include federal employees in the survey, and federal workers are paid far more than others. He also noted that “This study only looks at part of the benefits paid to state and local employees. It ignores the retiree pension and healthcare benefits they get but which the government has not set aside enough money to cover.”

The researchers failed to include the value of retiree health benefits, according to an analysis by Marcia Fritz, president of the California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility. The study, she notes, doesn’t adjust for the reality that teachers do not work a full year. It doesn’t adjust incomes even though private employees have money deducted for Social Security and most public employees do not have such deductions. She argues that had the researchers accounted for the true cost of retiree benefits that it would boost public sector wages by 15 percent.

It is a political screed. It complains that “government workers have been vilified.” Throughout the report, it makes its point, calling public employees “hard-working innocent victims of a financial system run amuck.”

This comes from one of the two University of California labor centers whose funding whose existence is dependent on support from legislative Democrats. Recent studies tilt hard to the left.

Look at California’s fiscal mess and pension debt. All the taxpayer-funded union spin — even if it’s gussied up in a study — can’t undermine the truth.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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