According to Yglesias, who demonstrates an incredible level of mis-understanding about federal employment for someone who talks about it so much, I’m underpaid. Maybe I should set up a tip jar in case anyone wants to take pity on me.
Here’s his take on what’s going on:
The federal government needs to fill some jobs. But it offers salaries that are less than the salaries that a person doing a similar job could get in the private sector. Naturally, this means that the federal government ends up attracting less-experienced applicants. Hiring is then done from this less-experienced pool. And since the people who are hired are doing jobs they’d be underqualified for in the private sector, they are making more money than they would be in the private sector.
Broadly, there are two types of federal jobs. A minority of the jobs consist of well-educated people doing the actual work of their agencies. A majority of the jobs consist of "support staff" (i.e. diversity hires).
There is no way to say that the latter type of federal employee is overpaid. Many of these people are unemployable in the private sector. They certainly have no options outside of government and everyone (even Congress!) knows it. (Also see Heather MacDonald). A secretary without a college education making $65,000, with a pension, perfect job security and incredible benefits is way, way overpaid.
Yglesias’ analysis applies only to the former type of jobs. In this somewhat limited case, he’s largely correct. Many people with Federal government jobs could get higher-paying jobs – at least nominally. Here’s how it might work.
Let’s say you’ve got a government job that pays you $100,000. You could find some private sector job that pays you $140,000 that requires you to work 50-75% more. Is this a raise?
You might also be able to find a job that would pay you $115,000 but that would have lower benefits and much lower job security. Is this a raise?
For some people, the answer to both questions will be "yes" for others the answer will be "no." Some people leave for these "higher paying" jobs, but most stay and would not consider leaving unless their pay was virtually doubled. This indicates to me that pay is generally too high. However, people value benefits, pensions and absurd job security in different ways.
In my experience, quotas (diversity and particularly with respect to hiring veterans) do more to lower the overall quality of the federal work force than pay.