This report calculates the average compensation and benefits for California’s full-time state, city and county government workers during 2015, using raw payroll data posted by the California state controller. It compares these findings to the results of a similar report issued three years ago using 2012 pay and benefit data from the California state controller. It then compares these trends to state and local government in the rest of the U.S. going back to 1995 using U.S. Census Bureau data. Using U.S. Census Bureau and California Employment Development Dept. data, it then compares state and local government pay in California to private sector pay, going back to 2000. Finally, it estimates how much the average state/local government worker pay and benefits would have to be if their pensions were adequately funded. This study focuses on California’s cities, counties and state agencies and does not examine pay and benefit data or trends for K-12 or college and university public employees.
Here is a summary of key findings:
(1) In 2012, the average pay and benefits for a full time employee in a California city was $124,058; county workers, $102,312; state agencies, $100,668.
(2) By 2015, these total compensation averages had increased as follows: Cities, $137,392, up 11% in three years; counties, $117,425, up 15%; state agencies, $116,887, up 16%. Adjusting for inflation of 3.02%, real compensation growth was 7.3% in cities, for counties it was 11.2%, and for state agencies it was 12.5%.
(3) Average 2015 total compensation for full-time state/local workers by category found the following:
– Cities: public safety $171,450, miscellaneous (all other employees) $121,431.
– Counties: public safety $170,728, miscellaneous $108,857.
– State Agencies: public safety $137,531, miscellaneous $104,867.
(4) Between 2012 and 2015 there was a strong correlation between growth in employer costs for overtime and growth in employer costs for pension contributions. Overtime pay was up in 2015 compared to three years ago by 35% for cities, 60% for counties, and 32% for state agencies. Similarly, pension contributions were up in 2015 compared to three years ago by 14% for cities, 26% for counties, and 42% for state agencies.
(5) In 2015, the pay (not including benefits) for California’s city and county employees exceeded pay for workers in cities and counties in the rest of the U.S. by 39%; California’s average public safety worker pay exceeded that of their counterparts across the U.S. by 78%; miscellaneous worker pay in California was 16% greater than in the rest of the U.S.
(6) In both California and in the rest of the U.S., between 1995 and 2015, pay for state, city and county workers grew by between 77% and 87%. The CPI (consumer price index) increased by 55% during that same period.
(7) Between 2000 and 2015, average private sector pay for full-time workers in California (not including benefits) increased 47%, from $37,012 in 2000 to $54,326 in 2015. During that same period, average pay for public employees in California increased by 59%, from $51,271 in 2000 to $81,549 in 2015.
(8) In 2015, the “benefits overhead” for the average private sector full-time worker in California is estimated at 15%; for state, city and county public employees, even when including overtime in the denominator, it is 40%.
(9) The composite average total compensation (pay and benefits) for a full-time city, county or state worker in California during 2015 was $121,843; for the average full-time private sector worker in California, including benefits, it was 62,475, which is 51% of what the public sector worker earned.
(10) If you take into account the necessary increases in contributions to California’s state and local pension funds in order to keep them solvent and keep promised retirement benefits intact, the average total compensation (pay and benefits) for a full-time city, county or state worker in California during 2015 was $139,691.
Three years ago the California Policy Center published an analysis of public sector pay and benefits for the year 2012. Using the same sources and methods, this report is to provide updated 2015 numbers. Our source for this information is the State Controller’s “Government Compensation in California” website which provides information on employee pay and benefits for approximately 2 million positions at more than 5,000 state and local public employers.
What level of public employee pay and benefits are affordable and appropriate is a difficult but necessary discussion. The analysis we performed in 2012 may have been one of the earliest attempts to extract from the raw data the average pay and benefits for full-time employees of California’s cities, counties, and the state government.
One of the biggest weaknesses inherent in the State controller’s “Government Compensation in California” database is that the summary information by agency provides averages that include records for employees who only worked part-time, or who only worked for part of the fiscal year. As will be discussed in the next section, however, the State controller’s compensation website provides Excel spreadsheets on their “downloads” page that include a detailed annual pay record for literally every public employee working in state or local government. These spreadsheet records yield sufficient additional information to accurately estimate averages limited to full-time employees.
In this report we will compare compensation and benefits data from 2012 to 2015, separating the data by cities, counties, and state agencies. We will then isolate compensation and benefits data for public safety employees and miscellaneous (all other) employees and perform the same analysis with those subsets. We will conclude with a presentation of additional findings using data, where available, going back as far as 1995, comparing California’s public sector compensation trends to reported private sector compensation data, as well as to changes in the consumer price index. Along with the State Controller, our sources include the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the California Employment Development Department.
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METHODS AND ASSUMPTIONS TO ISOLATE FULL-TIME EMPLOYEE RECORDS
The method to remove part-time records from our analysis in order to develop compensation averages for full-time employees of California’s cities, counties, and state government, using the State controller’s raw data, rests on four assumptions. They are:
(1) A full-time employee would participate in a health insurance plan to which the employer would contribute some portion of the required payment, however minimal.
(2) A full-time employee would participate in a retirement benefit plan, usually a pension, to which the employer would contribute some portion of the required payment, however minimal.
(3) A full time employee would earn an amount in “regular pay” at least equal to the amount specified as the “minimum pay for job classification.”
(4) To screen out interns, elected officials, and any other employee classifications that are not clearly full-time positions, we eliminate any records where the reported “regular pay” is less than $30,000 per year.
It is important to note that the pool of full time employees that is isolated using this analysis does not necessarily include all records of full-time employees. The third condition that must be met, for example, that requires a “full time” employee to have earned an amount in “regular pay” at least equal to the amount specified as the “minimum pay for job classification,” will exclude employees who only worked a partial year (typically because during the year they either were hired, retired, or transferred into or out of that job) and therefore earned less than the minimum. But “partial-year” employees must be excluded from the analysis because their lower earnings are not representative of what they would have earned if they’d been in the position the full year.
Another factor worth explaining are end of career payouts of, for example, accrued sick time, which could potentially skew averages upwards. In reality the opposite is probably true, because (1) this deferred compensation that occurs whenever an employee retires is an accurate reflection of what they were earning throughout their career, and so unless a disproportionate number of employees retire and collect payouts in the year under analysis, these payouts belong in the averages, and (2) a significant number of retirees do not work the full year and are therefore screened out based on condition #3 because their “regular pay” did not equal or exceed the “minimum pay for [their] job classification.
Because of the sheer size of the pool, even with the weaknesses noted, it is unlikely the results generated are not accurate. They draw from a database that literally includes every single employee under the payroll of any city, county, or state agency in California. In all, 291,011 city employee records were analyzed, 350,150 county employee records, and 239,860 state agency employee records. To verify the methods and the data, the reader is invited to download each of these Excel files, which were created by downloading the State controller’s raw data files and modifying them:
AVERAGE TOTAL COMPENSATION, FULL-TIME EMPLOYEES – 2015 vs 2012
Using data provided by the California state controller, Table 1 below displays 2012 average pay by category – regular pay, overtime, other pay, pension benefits, and other benefits. Subtotals are provided for total pay and total benefits, along with total compensation which represents all employer costs – pay and benefits – for the average full time worker. The columns provide data for California’s cities, counties, and state agencies.
Table 1 – Public Sector Pay in California
Average Pay and Benefits for Full-Time Workers, 2012