The Heritage Foundation issued a report titled “Government Employees Work Less than Private-Sector Employees” on September 11, 2012. The author used detailed data from the American Time Use Survey performed yearly by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Analysis revealed that a private sector worker has an average 41.4 hour work week, with federal employees working three hours less.
Digging deep into the data, the report reveals that Federal employees have on average a 38.7 hour work week while state and local employees have an average work week of 38.1 hours. As an average yearly total, federal workers work 3.8 fewer weeks than private sector workers. State and local employees work 4.7 fewer weeks, on average.
The survey’s design excludes many in the military, deployed overseas or at sea. If those work hours were counted, the federal averages might be very different.
Using the survey methods for accounting for hours, workers show breaks and meals as non-working time. The conclusion that government employees are somehow cheating the taxpayer by working less than private sector works ignores many of the factors that limit hours worked in government positions.
An alternative source for data on hours worked is the Current Employment Statistics survey, also done by the BLS. The August data reports a preliminary average of 34.4 hours worked by all private sector employees. This datum has varied little since record keeping began in 2006. The low was 33.8 hours from March through June 2009. The high was 34.7 hours in March 2008.
It would be ideal to develop a like for like comparison between private sector employment and public sector employment. The labor forces and the job descriptions vary enough that making such comparisons is a dangerous business and subject to error. Trying to determine who works most encounters the same difficulties researchers experience when attempting to determine who makes more money. Neither topic is without controversy and competing studies. In addition, where does our military’s work day fall in these statistics? How does the survey account for public school teachers?
The Heritage Foundation study is an interesting exploration of the data found in the American Time Use Survey. It may, however, be overstating the meaning of the survey data to state “The “underworked” government employee should be of concern to taxpayers who expect private-sector levels of work in the public sector in exchange for private-sector levels of compensation.“ The analysis actually suggests that government employees are working exactly the hours expected of them.
Charles Simmins brings thirty years of accounting and management experience to his coverage of the news. An upstate New Yorker, he is a free lance journalist, former volunteer firefighter and EMT, and is owned by a wife and four cats.