3 Simple Responses If You See a Post Claiming that 60,000+ Public Sector Workers in Illinois Make $100,000+

A recent Illinois Policy Institute article doesn’t tell a complete story. 

I have recently been forwarded a post by the Institute called “Illinois Has Over 63,000 Government Workers Making Over $100K,” in which the author blames highly-paid public sector workers for Illinois’ fiscal woes.

Using slightly different data from the American Community Survey by the U.S. Census Bureau, I find that an estimated 61,322 public sector workers in Illinois did earn $100,000 per year or more in 2015.

However, here are three basic facts in response:


1. These individuals represent just 8 percent of all public sector workers. Did you know that 10 percent of all private sector workers in Illinois earn $100,000 per year or more? The share of public sector workers earning at least $100,000 is lower than the share of private sector workers.

2. Fully 56 percent of the public sector workers who earn at least $100,000 per year have a master’s, doctorate, or other advanced degree. By contrast, just 40 percent of private sector workers earning that amount have similar levels of educational attainment. Better-educated workers tend to earn higher salaries in the Illinois labor market.

3. Four out of six recent hires in the Rauner Administration – nearly all from the Illinois Policy Institute – are paid a salary of more than $100,000. So while the Institute posts an article about 8 percent of government workers making more than $100,000, 67 percent of their former staffers enter state government making more than $100,000. With years of experience and university-level degrees, these new government employees may not think they are overpaid.

It’s simple supply-and-demand. Public sector workers have higher levels of educational attainment than their private sector counterparts. In order to attract skilled workers, organizations tend to compensate highly-educated workers with higher salaries. Every worker is worth what he or she has the leverage to negotiate.

Finally, while the Institute’s recent article was devoid of any context regarding Illinois’ labor market, it also misplaces the blame. Years of mismanagement and kicking the fiscal can down the road by elected officials, including a two-year budget impasse under the Rauner Administration, are to blame for Illinois’ fiscal woes. Not hardworking Illinois police officers, prison guards, firefighters, teachers, professors, judges, nurses, and other public sector workers paid the going market rate.

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