Total Compensation: U.S. Government Employees vs the Private Sector

Posted: Jul 29, 2013 12:01 AM

How does the total compensation of the average U.S. federal government employee compare to that of the average U.S. individual income earner who works full-time, year-round?

To find out, we've taken the average cash incomes earned by each and added the average benefits that each receives through their employer as reported by the Congressional Budget Office in 2012. They found that:

On average for workers at all education levels, benefits for federal employees cost about $20 per hour worked, whereas benefits for private-sector employees cost $14, CBO estimates. Thus, benefits for federal workers cost 48 percent more per hour worked, on average, than benefits for private sector workers with similar attributes. Benefits also constituted a larger share of compensation for federal workers, accounting for 39 percent of the cost of total compensation, compared with 30 percent in the private sector.

We next visualized those numbers, in which we reveal the average total compensation of U.S. federal government employees and individual Americans who work in full time jobs all year long:

Average Total Compensation of Private Sector and Federal Government Employees in U.S., 2011

We find that while the average U.S. federal government employee makes $14,632 more in direct cash income than their private sector counterpart, at $74,436 versus $59,804, the extremely generous benefits with which they are also compensated boosts their real income margin by $26,632 over the average private sector income earner, putting their total compensation at $114,436 versus $87,804.

Keeping in mind that the average income of Americans in the private sector is considerably elevated by some very highly paid individuals such as CEOs, very specialized medical professionals, sports stars and entertainment moguls, the total compensation of U.S. federal government employees puts them all in a league of their own. And that's not even including their extreme job security.

Is it any wonder then that U.S. federal government employees are almost more likely to die than leave their jobs?


Asbury Park Press. Federal Employees, 2011. [Online Database]. Accessed 28 June 2013

Congressional Budget Office. Comparing the Compensation of Federal and Private-Sector Employees. [PDF Document]. January 2012

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