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  Public Employee Salaries 

or,  What is the right amount to pay someone?


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August 2011

You have no doubt received emails with something like the following:

Firefighters get paid nothing and they RISK THEIR LIVES TO SAVE US.
Policemen get squat for a salary and yet THEY PUT THEIR THEIR LIVES ON THE LINE EVERY DAY.
Our servicemen and servicewomen get paid nothing TO PROTECT OUR COUNTRY.
Teachers, our MOST IMPORTANT PROFESSIONALS, get paid less than baristas at Starbucks.
Congress is paid $250,000 a year FOR LIFE.


Indeed. What's wrong with this picture is a severe lack of data. How much do all these people make? What is an appropriate compensation for the important jobs they do? (And shouldn't we pay those baristas a living wage too?)

Setting salaries is a hard topic. Some jobs require higher skill levels than others. But even a job requiring high skills might be paid low if there is an abundance of qualified people to perform the job. (Consider "web site programmers".) And some very low skilled jobs might pay a lot if there is a dearth of applicants. Some jobs render services we might consider more valuable to society than others. Should we, as a society, pay more for a highly valued job if the line of highly qualified candidates stretches around the block? It's up for debate.

I don't have answers, but I think data can help us discuss this important topic more rationally. To that end I've included links below to a number of web sites that provide databases or other information on salaries. Some will even report on pensions. I've also given you some teaser information from each. The teaser information was accurate at the time this was published.

When you talk with your close friends (or not so close friends) about this, why not bring some current data to the table?

  • Education Salaries:   Ed-Data     Search by zip code and see what the average salaries for teachers are in any district. Statewide high school teacher salary average is $71,000.
  • U.S. Congress: Ask.com  Talks about what congressmen actually get. In 2006 the average pension paid was about $60,000. And you have to be in congress for a minimum of 20 years to get the full pension.
  • Public Employees: Mercury News database  As I read it, the top Total Compensation recipient in 2010 was the Police Chief of Santa Clara at $684,000. Redwood City Police and Fire chiefs between $280,000 and $320,000. Top "Firefighter/Engineer" is $260,000. Top "Police Officer" is $250,000.
  • Military Personnel: Department of the Navy I'm not exactly sure how to read these charts, but it looks like an E-4 (Petty Officer 3rd Class) with 8 years duty makes $28,000 a year. An O-3 Lieutenant LT with 3 years of service makes $55,000.


Do you know of other sites with good data? I'd like to know about them.




Jim Schrempp is a sometimes freelance writer (only Vanity Press will publish his work) living in Saratoga, California. His writings have appeared on numerous pages on his own web site. The opinions expressed in this piece are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent those of anyone else (although Jim wishes more people shared his opinions)