Changes in the Structure of Wages in the Public and Private Sectors
58 Pages Posted: 6 Apr 2004 Last revised: 15 Jul 2010
Date Written: March 1991
The wage structure in the U.S. public sector responded sluggishly to substantial changes in private sector wages during the 1970s and 1980s. Despite a large expansion in the college/high school wage differential during the 1980s in the private sector, the public sector college wage premium remained fairly stable. Although wage differentials by skill, in the public sector were fairly unresponsive to changes in the private sector, overall pay levels for state and local government workers were quite sensitive to local labor market conditions. But federal government regional pay levels appear unaffected by local economic conditions. Several possible explanations are considered to account for the rigidity of the government internal wage structure, including employer size, unionization, and nonprofit status. None of these factors adequately explains the pay rigidity we observe in the government.
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