Local Government Salaries Are Ticking Up — Slowly - Voice of San Diego

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Local Government Salaries Are Ticking Up — Slowly

Local government workers’ wages aren’t growing as quickly as those who work at the state or federal level, or in the private sector.

This post has been updated.

Thousands of federal and state government workers reporting for duty in San Diego are making more than they did during the Great Recession.

Most local government workers can’t say the same, especially when you factor in a rising cost of living.

The average wage for San Diego County and the patchwork of local municipalities and agencies in the county makes about 3 percent less per week than she did in early 2009 when you include inflation.

Meanwhile, the average state or federal worker has risen by at least 19 percent from the first quarter of 2009 to the same period in 2014, according to an analysis of payroll data submitted as part of the joint federal and state Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages.

Last week, I analyzed how wages were growing in key San Diego industries and discovered many pay increases have been swallowed up by an uptick in the cost of living.

The data I combed through also shows the average salaries for state and federal employees in the county surpassed the average salaries for private-sector workers and grew more quickly too.

But local government salaries lagged behind.

That speaks to a larger trend: Local governments are only starting to emerge from years of cuts associated with the most serious economic drought in a generation.

Here’s a look at how weekly government salaries have increased since 2009. The first chart features actual dollars; the second one considers the impact of inflation.

There are a couple big reasons for the gulf between federal and local government salaries.

For one, many federal employees in San Diego were making more in the first place. And more than 16,000 San Diegans work in national security, a category that includes the military. Members of the armed services continued to receive pay hikes during and after the recession.

Here’s how some of the largest contingents of local federal employees, including members of the military, have fared since early 2009.

The average state worker is making more than she did in 2009 too.

There aren’t as many state workers, though.

San Diego alone has shed nearly 6,000 state government jobs since 2009 and many employees have less take-home cash to spend than they did that year.

For example, state police and attorneys are essentially making 1 percent less than they did in 2009.

Meanwhile, state-level health and educational employers reported double-digit percentage increases in wages for their leaner workforces. This category includes state college employees at San Diego State and UC San Diego.

Most of the state government job losses since 2009 have come in this category. There’s a chance the depleted workforce contributed to the wage trend here. If the employees who remained at state colleges, for example, were making more in the first place, that would push up the average wage for state government workers, even absent salary increases.

Workers for the county and the many cities within it experienced something different.

Their wages were sucked up by cost-of-living increases. There area few reasons for that.

For one, folks are a lot more focused on government salaries and pensions these days.

A pension reform measure in San Diego that led city leaders to negotiate five-year union contracts that freeze employees’ pensionable salaries puts a damper on wage growth.

Carlsbad also stopped handing out automatic salary hikes last year.

State-level cuts also translated into layoff threats and meager pay increases for many teachers, one of the largest groups of government employees in San Diego County.

Even after those threats faded, local governments have dealt with budget shortfalls.

The San Diego Unified School District, for example, at one time faced down a $100 million budget deficit.

Local governments have replaced some employees who’ve left with part-time employees too, leading to smaller salaries.

Here’s a window into those local government wages:

Government pension contributions aren’t included in these numbers. They do incorporate bonuses, stock options and expenses.

One thing is clear, though: Local government employees generally haven’t collected the kind of pay increases doled out to state and federal workers.

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