An impressive 89 percent of state and local government employees had access to employer-sponsored retirement benefits as of September 2007, according to the National Compensation Survey of Employee Benefits in State and Local Government, released last month. The survey also found that 87 percent of public sector employees were offered medical benefits.

The National Compensation Survey, published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Office of Compensation and Working Conditions, reports on local, regional, and national compensation and benefits trends.

While statistics for the private sector were released in a separate report and cited data as of March 2007, the figures were noticeably lower: Only 61 percent of employees in private industry had access to retirement benefits, and 71 percent to medical benefits.

The gap in figures comes as no surprise to Mark Weinberg, Chief Financial Officer for, the oldest and largest online job board dedicated exclusively to the public sector. “Historically, state and local governments have generally been able to offer employees more attractive compensation benefits packages than the private sector,” he says.

In an era where employers in both the public and private sector have to be more conscientious in light of rising costs, the public sector is still ahead in terms of preserving as many benefits as possible for its employees.

Weinberg, who also has over 35 of experience in local government management, serving as city manager of Inglewood, California and, more recently, Medina, Washington, explains that governments are often able to do so often in lieu of performance bonuses and stocks or other profit-sharing plans. In addition, their salaries can lag those of their corporate counterparts.

The National Compensation Survey says that public sector employees are offered a variety of other benefits, including work-related education assistance, employee assistance programs, health care and/or dependent care reimbursement accounts, and wellness programs.

Employment status was the primary factor in determining eligibility for benefits, according to the Survey; access to benefits was much higher for full-time employees than for part-time workers – up to four times higher for certain perks.

The issue of benefits for municipal employees has started to receive new and expanded interest because of new Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) rules on other post-employment benefits (OPEB). These benefits extend beyond pensions, primarily to include health care benefits.

Costs associated with providing these benefits are increasing as employees are living longer and retiring in larger numbers. Many governments have been funding these benefits on a “pay-as-you-go” basis, creating cause for concern over future credit quality.

NEW_SECTIONGovernment Salaries Slower to Feel Effects of Economic DownturnEND_SUPP_HDR

In addition to attractive benefits packages, recent Bureau of Labor Statistics figures bode well for salary increases for those who work in state and local government.

Public sector employees earned 4.1 percent more in the fourth quarter of 2007 than they did one year earlier, according to composite figures posted by the Bureau’s National Compensation Survey.

For the same twelve-month period, the increase in wages in the private sector trailed behind, with a reported 3.0% increase.

Governments are generally still more stable, little less vulnerable to fluctuations in the economy than the private sector, says Mark Weinberg, Chief Financial Officer for “In the private sector, employers are likely to feel the effects of a slowing economy faster than employers in the public sector."

A March 2007 article entitled, Census Data Allows for Comparison of State Government Employment Figures, highlights the most recent State and Local Government Payroll Data, as of March 2006. Data for March 2007 is expected to be released in fall 2008, according to the Census Bureau.