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Published March 02 2011

Analysis on public employees' pay draws skepticism

Private-sector employees in North Dakota and Minnesota at times make hundreds of dollars less than those working in government jobs, according to an analysis this week by USA Today.

But experts in both states question the accuracy of those results because many public employees still report lower pay compared to the private sector.

USA Today compared average total compensation – salary plus benefits – for public and private workers across the U.S.

The study found public workers earned more in 41 states, including North Dakota, Minnesota and South Dakota.

While North Dakota public employees earn among the lowest compensation of any state in the nation, they are paid roughly $390 more than private-sector workers, the report stated.

Public workers in South Dakota earned an average of $1,900 more than private-sector workers, USA Today’s report shows.

For Minnesota, public employees earned $1,200 more than what private-sector employees in that state earned.

Skeptics of the report’s findings argue that the analysis failed to include relevant criteria that would put the numbers into context.

Ken Purdy, compensation manager for North Dakota’s Human Resource Management Services, called the report “a gross oversimplification of the issues in working with employee compensation.”

For instance, the analysis didn’t include factors such as education level, previous experience, job level and other qualifications of individual employees, Purdy said.

North Dakota AFL-CIO President Dave Kemnitz said the findings contrast those of a state government study that found public employees “lag substantially in pay” compared to private-sector jobs.

Kemnitz pointed out that in western North Dakota’s Oil Patch, public jobs can’t possibly compete in compensation compared to the private-sector jobs.

Dustin Gawrylow, executive director of the North Dakota Taxpayers Association, said he finds the report credible.

“For decades, we have been told that public employee pay is embarrassingly less than in the market,” Gawrylow said in a statement. “They really aren’t. They are pretty much on par, which is where they should be.”

Craig Whitney, president and CEO of The Chamber, which represents Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo, said the report might be flawed, but workers – whether public or private – have a choice in the fields they choose.

“The beauty of a free enterprise system is that workers have a choice to work in public, private or nonprofit sectors, allowing them to strive toward a total compensation package that fits their needs,” he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541