Obtaining Factual Compensation Data Should Not Be This Difficult

As a project for this summer, I was asked to look at the salary compensation comparisons between private sector employees and state employees.  Initially, as I began to compile the research needed, I was optimistic.  I knew other organizations had done similar reports and if I used their sources then I should be able to find information to compile a report based on North Carolina’s jobs.

However, as I began my own digging, I realized how hard of a task I had in front of me.  Not only did I find these publications to have incorrect data but I also realized I had no clue which numbers to trust.  By using the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ pay and benefits database, I acquired private sector salaries as well as public sector salaries.  Don’t let this small victory fool you; this database is poorly named and uninformative because although it is titled “pay and benefits database”, it is impossible to find the cost of private or public sector benefits by state.

Then came what I thought to be another victory.  I found each of North Carolina’s annual Compensation and Benefits Reports for the last ten years.  Alas, I was able to find out how much State employees received in benefits along with their average base salaries.  Unfortunately, none of these salary figures matched the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ information.  Not only did the two figures differ but, North Carolina reported its average base pay for the year 2010 to be $41,714 and the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the average to be $44,545, an astounding difference of $2,831.

Regardless of which North Carolina average salary number is right, the Bureau of Labor Statistics does report that the average private sector salary is around $40,866 for 2010, which is still higher, regardless of which number you look at, than the state of North Carolina’s average salary.  And while I don’t have the specific numbers, typically state employees receive larger benefit packages than private sector employees do, leading me to believe that in all, North Carolina State employees are better compensated than private sector employees in the state.

And what’s worse than the State compensating their employees more: recession proof jobs. Throughout the recession, North Carolina government jobs were untouched by the recession while private sectors jobs in North Carolina lost 300,000 jobs.

So in the end, after lots of research and time spent trying to find the correct numbers, I, the educated college graduate, am left with only an assumption, no hard facts to go by, an incomplete project, and a lot of frustration.

This lack of transparency is not as uncommon as you might believe.  The John Locke Foundation’s nctransparency.com gives the State of North Carolina very poor marks with regards to how transparent and accessible their records are.

Don Carrington, who worked as deputy director of the ESC’s Labor Market Information Division before joining the John Locke Foundation, provides insight into how skewed and misleading numbers, especially jobless numbers, can be.

There are two morals to learn from this story. First, don’t trust every statistic/number you read and secondly, it shouldn’t take an expert to be able to find numbers that should be available to the general public.

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