Blog: Analyzing Boston employee earnings

For our Data Visualization graduate class we were given a choice of three data sets to start analyzing as we work to start seeing stories in the numbers. I chose the Boston Employee Earnings Report from 2017 to answer the following questions about.

Who collects this data set? If it’s an organization, which department of the organization? Is there a specific person listed who you could contact?

The City of Boston collects this data and makes it available to the public every year. It is collected by the Office of Human Resources. I looked at the tab on the site labeled “Activity Stream” and it shows the full name of the last person to update the data. I think first I would try to reach out directly to the Office of Human Resources for the City of Boston, just to go through the proper channels. If I didn’t hear back from the official organization, next I would try connecting with the specific people listed as individuals who are updating the list.

Why do you think the organization collects this data? Does it specify how it uses the data?

I think it is important to be transparent with how much public employees are paid because their salaries are paid with taxpayer dollars. Employee salaries are public records. The data set does not specify how it uses the data, but I know it’s for transparency for the public. By collecting this data, the Office of Human Resources for the City of Boston could see any discrepancies happening across the different city departments.

While thinking about this question I came upon a Boston Globe article from 2018 that discussed how 19 Massachusetts agencies failed to report their payroll and spending data. A law was passed in 2010 that requires all quasi-public agencies to disclose this data as public information since it is taxpayers money being spent.

According to the Boston Globe, the city has also had issues with fraud within the police department in the past few years. By keeping this data it is clear to see the earning potential a police officer has in overtime. Some of those officers make more money in overtime than their regular salaries. By having this data we can keep track of this spending and hold people accountable.

What time period does the data set cover?

This data set covers the 2017 calendar year.

What are some questions you have about this data set?

  • When do these employers need to report their earnings by in the calendar year?
  • What is the Quinn Education Incentive?
  • What is the Detail category?
  • Do Boston Public School teachers make more money than the state average?
  • Why do only police officers have the ability to earn overtime?
  • What profession has the biggest earning discrepancies from highest to lowest paid employee?

Who are three types of people you could interview about this data set in order to learn more?

I’d like to interview a Boston Public Schools teacher, a member of the Boston Police, and someone from the City of Boston who works on budget. I want to understand the trajectory of salaries as a teacher or a police officer, as they’re both unionized I want to know about how the pay scale works overtime.

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