December 8 2012

Who Works More—The Public Sector or the Private Sector?

Vicki E. Alger

Is it true that private-sector employees work more than government employees? Conventional wisdom—not to mention all the stereotypes—would suggest yes.

But the American Enterprise Institute’s Andrew Biggs and The Heritage Foundation’s Jason Richwine analyzed data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ American Time Use Survey, to separate fiction from fact and found that:

…overstaffing is a serious problem in government, and the best evidence is a simple empirical fact: Government employees don't work as much as private employees. If public-sector employees just worked as many hours as their private counterparts, governments at all levels could save more than $100 billion in annual labor costs. …

Put another way, private employees spend around an extra month working each year compared with public employees. If the public sector worked that additional month, governments could theoretically save around $130 billion in annual labor costs without reducing services. …

Based on the most detailed and objective data set available, the private sector really does work more than the public sector. This fact may hold different lessons for different people, but our own take is simple: Before we ask private-sector employees to work more to support government, government itself should work as much as the private sector.

Biggs and Richwine’s research excluded public-school teachers, but it’s worth considering whether they should be held to private-sector standards as well—including results-based pay, no more in-service during school hours, and more rigorous, quality-based evaluations.

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