NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Comparing Oklahoma State Employees' Compensation

April 11, 2002

In Oklahoma, to bolster its annual cry for more money, the state employees union -- the Oklahoma Public Employees Association (OPEA) -- trots out studies to show that state employees are underpaid, have inferior benefits, and are leaving at such a high rate that state services are threatened. Legislators are barraged with stories of how Oklahoma's state pay ranks near the bottom in 50-state comparisons and newspaper editorials portray state employees as dedicated but underpaid public servants.

Dedicated? Assuredly, most of them are. Underpaid? Not by a long shot. Economist Wendell Cox dispels the myths about state employment in Oklahoma.

State employees receive three percent greater compensation (wages and paid benefits) than state government employees in nearby comparable states -- and considerably more than private employees in the state.

  • Oklahoma state employees are paid more than state employees in Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana and Missouri; about the same as state employees in Texas; and four percent less than employees in New Mexico.
  • While private and public average salaries are similar (state employees are paid 1.1 percent more), state employer-paid benefits add 46 percent to state employees' compensation, compared to only 21 percent in the private sector.
  • The result is that total compensation for state employees is 22 percent higher than that of the average private full time equivalent employee.

Furthermore, Oklahoma state employees on average work 139 fewer hours (3.5 weeks) annually per year than the average private employee in Oklahoma. This expands the gap between state and private compensation further. The result is that state employees are compensated in salaries and benefits 31.4 percent more than private employees per hour worked.

Source: Wendell Cox, "Voting With their Seats," Perspective, Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, January 2002.

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