The CSO’s earnings data: who’s coining it?
Figures throw up odd comparisons but drawing too many conclusions may be unwise
Does anyone really believe teachers are better paid than IT workers? Photograph: Getty Images
How does your income compare to others? It’s a divisive question: one that can turn a casual conservation into a veritable knife fight. Income disparity is self-evidently a function of any market economy and workers’ wages, just like other price variables, differ on the basis of many factors not least supply and demand.
But workers aren’t products and wage inequality is a big flashpoint, driving industrial and political unrest in economies across the globe. Alongside immigration, it was perhaps the principal trigger in the populist backlash that has stalked Europe and North America since the financial crisis.
For the 2.2 million people at work in the Republic last year, average weekly earnings were clocked at €761.65 as 2018 closed, up 4 per cent on the previous year. The Central Statistics Office’s figures, published this week, throw up some interesting comparisons. Take the fact that IT workers, who lead the way in the private sector with average weekly earnings of €1,175, earn less than members of An Garda Síochána, who took home an average of €1,232 per week.
The figures for the IT sector, however, incorporate a significant cohort of part-time workers, which anchor the average, and undoubtedly hide the generous salaries enjoyed by many Google and Facebook workers. The figures also indicate that a garda works on average six to eight hours longer a week.
Even the hourly earnings statistics, which should in theory provide a cleaner metric of comparison, are warped by averages and various sectoral factors. They show average hourly earnings for all Irish workers stood at €23.46 in the fourth quarter of 2018. And while the average IT worker earned €32.32, nearly 40 per cent above the national average, they were outgunned in terms of earning power by workers in the education sector, who recorded the highest average figure with a rate of €36.27.
But does anyone really believe teachers are better paid than IT workers? It’s dangerous therefore to draw conclusions from the headline numbers. And the CSO figures don’t include many of the highest paid workers here, including medical consultants, accountants or solicitors in partnerships, or the incomes of the very wealthy.