With unemployment on the rise, job seekers might want to take another look at local schools, fire houses, police stations and court rooms.

State- and local-government jobs have higher wages and more comprehensive benefits than private-sector jobs, and are cutting back jobs at a much slower rate than the national level, according to independent research and government data.

A recent study by the Employee Benefit Research Institute found that state and local governments pay out $39.50 per hour in salary and benefits, on average. That's 51% more than the $26.09 per hour offered by the private sector.

The study also found that the government pays more than twice as much for health insurance, and more than three times as much for retirement savings plans, than private employers. Overall, salaries are 43% higher at $26.26 per hour and benefits are 73% higher at $13.24 per hour.

Ken McDonnell, a spokesman for the institute, says that the survey, conducted since 1991, consistently shows that government jobs pay better. The reason for the disparity is more unionization at the government level, as well as the nature of work.

For instance, teachers require high levels of education, while those in public-safety take on many more risks than the average office worker. Tenure also plays a part in the compensation disparity, since there is far less turnover in government jobs, McDonnell adds.

"The longer you are with your employer, the higher your compensation is going to be," he says.

While the government unemployment rate is higher than it was a year ago, it has been relatively flat in recent months, and is still much lower than the national rate. The unemployment rate for state and local jobs was 5% in May, compared with 5.5% for overall unemployment.

The Labor Department

offers a look

at local government unemployment rates. The West and Midwest had the worst labor situation last month, while the Northeast and the South had the best. The agency's

national employment survey

also showed that while federal and state governments were cutting payrolls, local governments added employees. The education sector has fared well although the Post Office has been slashing jobs.