Launch Slideshow

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The Big Chill

The Big Chill

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    Last year, 1,257 survey respondents sounded off on how the shrinking economy had impacted their departments. This year, 1,254 respondents answered that same question. *Respondents were able to select all that applied; percentages will not add up to 100%. Percentages are rounded to whole numbers.

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    When compared to PUBLIC WORKS' 2009 Salary & Benefits Survey results, a higher percentage of this year's respondents expect frozen wages and pay cuts.Source: PUBLIC WORKS

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    Survey respondents were asked to tell us about their healthcare premiums. Of the 1,254 who took this survey, five people skipped this question. Percentages are rounded to whole numbers.Source: PUBLIC WORKS

The editors of PUBLIC WORKS thank the 1,254 readers who completed our online survey, and congratulate the 10 who were randomly selected to receive $25 gift cards.

You'd been paying more for less medical coverage and fewer benefits for at least two years when the economy took the biggest dive since the Great Depression, adding wage and promotion freezes to the list of casualties from cities, counties, and states struggling to balance their budgets.

Anomaly or not, more respondents to our annual survey of wages and benefits are experiencing more pay and pension cuts, furloughs, and reduced benefits than ever.

A National League of Cities survey of finance officers early last year warned that conditions were only going to get worse. But the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 brought hope by designating almost $200 billion to public works. So in addition to asking how the economy is affecting your operation, this year we wanted to find out if the stimulus package is saving jobs and salaries.

We'll get to that in a minute.

First, have we hit bottom?

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    These charts break down median salaries by title and by department. Click to expand.

We query readers for this exclusive editorial package every January. Last year at that time, 70% of respondents said their city, county, or state had enacted budget cuts. This year that percentage increased to 80%. The amount of people reporting layoffs almost doubled, jumping from 17% to 29%. And at 8%, reported cuts in pension benefits are nearly triple last year's 3%.

And while 16% of last year's respondents said benefits had been cut, this year 27% say the same.

The percentage of participants who received neither a raise nor a promotion jumped from roughly one-third to a little more than half. Thirteen percent — more than double last year's rate — have had their pay cut. More than a quarter have been required to take unpaid days off compared to 8% a year earlier. Additionally, one-quarter are getting less overtime pay.

More than half (56%) don't anticipate a pay increase over the coming year, and a little less than a quarter (24%) expect a 1% to 3% increase. Last year, the percentages were 38% and 43%, respectively.

Quite a few commented that the anticipated wage increase doesn't cover the effects of inflation. Many didn't receive a cost-of-living allowance last year to help compensate and don't expect one this year, either. (For a breakdown of median salaries by title and department, see the charts on this page.)

“When your pay stays the same and everything else goes up, how can you keep doing this time after time?” questions a Midwestern municipal inspector, who has taken on a part-time job to make ends meet. Plus, he says, “healthcare continues to climb; we pay more and get less.”

Another thought that keeps respondents wary: there seems to be no end in sight.

Says a public works director in the Great Lakes region, “A one-year pay freeze is understandable and acceptable. The concern is if it goes into multiple years. Municipal revenue is down and the future is unsure.”

Nonunion employees are often the first to feel the pain as unions such as the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees work to hold the line on members' compensation packages. Survey comments from managers/supervisors (who make up the majority of respondents at 24%) suggest that wage and benefits packages of non-union management are hit hardest. But unionized respondents indicate that time has run out for everyone.

In the Northwest, one water/waste-water/stormwater technician facing monthly furloughs and a pending pay cut doesn't believe her union is doing enough, while a highways, streets, roads, bridges foreman is waiting to see what benefits he'll lose since his union is currently in contract talks.

Although the commercial building sector is showing slight signs of growth, property values are still low. Expect to face fiscal constraints for at least two more years, warns Elizabeth K. Keller, president and CEO of the Center for State and Local Government Excellence. Human resource managers provide more detail on how public agencies are belt-tightening in the sidebar in the slideshow.

Recovery conundrum: more work, fewer workers

As usual, the involvement of the federal government in state and local infrastructure affairs has been a mixed blessing.

Although the one-time windfall from the stimulus package accelerated some scheduled projects, many operations lucky enough to be approved for funding were short-staffed and are now scrambling to meet the legislation's requirements with fewer personnel resources. Twenty-one percent of respondents attribute increased workloads — by creating more administrative work in applying for funding, for example, or by bringing in more projects without adding positions — to the legislation.

When asked what impact the package has had on departments, most respondents (66%) say there's been none. That said, though, 5% report that it staved off additional layoffs, 3% used it to ward off position cuts, and 2% actually created positions.

On a more hopeful note, a water/waste-water/stormwater manager in the Southwest, who has yet to see stimulus monies reach his department, expects the funding lag to change in the future. This may well be true. As of press time, fewer than a dozen states had obligated all of their money, but the rest were expected to do so by the March 2 “use-it-or-lose-it” deadline.

Benefit blowback

More than half (56%) of respondents are paying higher insurance premiums and more out-of-pocket costs this year. Several mentioned they're also receiving less coverage than in the past.

Nevertheless, more than half (53%) feel that their benefits are better than those offered to colleagues working in the private sector, while an additional 22% say they're comparable. Only 14% feel that private-industry benefits are more competitive than their own.

Additionally, nearly 7 of every 10 respondents are somewhat (36%) to very (33%) satisfied with their benefits packages, and more than a third (39%) say they will stay in their jobs because of those benefits. When asked how benefits impact job satisfaction, 15% say they don't. Overall, a little more than half (51%) say they have better benefits than most and enjoy their jobs.

In a time when, as a West Coast survey participant reminds us, we're lucky to have work, job satisfaction and a still-decent benefits package just may lessen the sting of doing more with less while living on frozen wages.

Cutting into the bone

Trimming expenses doesn't necessarily save money.

The Center for State and Local Government Excellence recently asked human resources managers what their employers were doing to balance expenses with dwindling tax revenues during the economic downturn. More than three-quarters of respondents reported that hiring freezes had been enacted, and more than 60% reported pay freezes.

A little more than 40% had lain off employees, while 30% had ordered furloughs. When asked if the unpaid time off achieved the level of savings public officials had estimated, 61% of respondents said yes and 39% said no.

Twenty-one percent also reported changes to retirement plans, while half said healthcare plans had been reconfigured:

  • Increased employee contributions (69%)
  • Added number of years required to vest (25%)
  • Added wellness programs, 24-hour nurse lines, or onsite clinics (25%)
  • Reduced benefits (23%)
  • Tiered benefits (15%)
  • Decreased employer contributions (10%)

The online survey was conducted among members of the International Public Management Association for Human Resources and the National Association of State Personnel Executives from November through December 2009; 396 members participated. For more information, visit www.slg.com.

The benefits package

Based on PUBLIC WORKS' 2010 Salary & Benefits Survey, those entering the public works profession can expect to see:

  • Paid holidays (96% of respondents are offered this option by employers)
  • Paid vacation days (95%)
  • Health insurance/benefits (95%)
  • Sick leave (92%)

The majority of respondents also receive:

  • Dental insurance (82%)
  • Life insurance (79%)
  • Pension plan (76%)
  • 401(k), 403(b), 457(k), or other savings plan (72%)

And more than half of those surveyed receive:

  • Paid training — CEUs/PDHs, other (64%)
  • Accidental death & dismemberment (AD&D) insurance (61%)
  • Disability leave (61%)
  • Vision insurance (60%)
  • Flexible spending accounts (59%))
  • Paid professional registration/association memberships (56%
  • Tuition reimbursement (52%)
  • Cell or other phone allowance (51%)

Yet less than half of those surveyed receive:

  • Compensation time (43%)
  • Retirement health insurance (35%)
  • Company car or car allowance (31%)
  • Overtime pay (29%)
  • Training/certification incentives (26%)
  • Flexible scheduling/work hours or telecom-muting (25%)
  • Fitness room onsite or support toward private fitness club (23%)
  • Monetary bonuses (9%)

Source: PUBLIC WORKS


How does your salary compare?

This region-by-region analysis compares median salaries of survey respondents by population served. You can find median salaries by title or by title and department/area of work. Note: Not all titles, departments, etc. are represented due to lack of survey respondents from those areas.

EPA Region 1: Salaries by Title / Salaries by Department
ME, VT, NH, MA, CT, RI

EPA Region 2: Salaries by Title / Salaries by Department
NY, NJ, PR, VI

EPA Region 3: Salaries by Title / Salaries by Department
PA, WV, DE, MD, DC, VA

EPA Region 4: Salaries by Title / Salaries by Department
KY, TN, MS, AL, GA, SC, NC, FL

EPA Region 5: Salaries by Title / Salaries by Department
MN, WI, IL, MI, IN, OH

EPA Region 6: Salaries by Title / Salaries by Department
NM, TX, OK, AR, LA

EPA Region 7: Salaries by Title / Salaries by Department
NE, IA, KS, MO

EPA Region 8: Salaries by Title / Salaries by Department
MT, ND, SD, WY, UT, CO

EPA Region 9: Salaries by Title / Salaries by Department
CA, NV, AZ

EPA Region 10: Salaries by Title / Salaries by Department
AK, WA, OR, ID

Canada: Salaries by Title / Salaries by Department

May 2008 wage estimates for federal, state, and local government occupations
Click below to access a downloadable Excel form providing mean and median salaries for even more jobs in the public sector. Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. View it here.

For more salary and benefits statistics by industry, occupation, region, and state, visit the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics at http://www.bls.gov/oes/.