California’s State and Local Workers Average Pay and Benefits Twice the Average for Private Sector Workers

California’s State and Local Workers Average Pay and Benefits Twice the Average for Private Sector Workers

For Immediate Release

January 26, 2017

Dawn Collier
California Policy Center

A in-depth analysis released this week by the California Policy Center finds that the average pay and benefits for California’s full-time state and local public employees in 2015 was $121,843. This is nearly twice what the average full-time private sector worker made in pay and benefits during 2015, $62,475.

Read full study: California’s Public Sector Compensation Trends

The California State Controller provides public pay averages but these are weighed down by part time and part year workers as well as interns and temporary employees. Relying instead on raw data downloaded from the State Controller’s website, CPC researchers combed through 881,021 individual 2015 pay records for California’s city, county and state agency employees to isolate the full-time employees in order to calculate accurate averages. Using data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the California Employment Development Department, the researchers were also able to estimate the average pay and benefits for private sector workers in California.

“If anything we have understated the public sector averages, and overstated the private sector averages,” said Ed Ring, CPC VP of policy research and author of the study. “For example, we calculated the public sector averages would have risen to $139,691 in 2015 if the pension systems had been more adequately funded. We also made, in the absence of better available data, very generous assumptions regarding private sector employer-paid benefits, which meant our $62,475 average total pay and benefits estimate for private sector workers, if anything, is overstated.”

Other key findings of the study:

  • Average 2015 total compensation for full-time state/local workers by category:– 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.

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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%.

“California’s state and local governments face serious financial challenges, including $1.3 trillion in debt and underfunded pensions, plus neglected infrastructure,” said Ring. “State and local elected officials ought to be coming up with policies designed to lower the cost of living for everyone, instead of paying their government workforce twice what ordinary citizens can earn.”


The California Policy Center is a non-partisan public policy think tank providing information that elevates the public dialogue on vital issues facing Californians, with the goal of shaping more equitable and sustainable management of California’s public institutions. Learn more at

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