Obama Signs Executive Order Giving Small Pay Raise To Federal Workers, Including Congress

Author: December 28, 2012 6:49 pm

public-workers-anti-austerity-620x402Congress and federal workers will see a pay increase of 0.5% next year. President Obama signed an executive order for the pay raise that will take effect when the current budget resolution expires at the end of March. This particular order comes as the Senate and the White House work to resolve the fiscal cliff.

Congress hasn’t received a pay raise since 2009, while all federal employees have been under a pay freeze since 2010.

All members of Congress make a minimum of $175,000 per year from the federal government. According to the Huffington Post, Obama’s order will bring John Boehner’s salary up to $224,500 and Harry Reid’s up to $194,400. Vice President Biden’s salary will also go up next year, to $231,900.

As of Sept. 2010, the average salary for full-time, non-seasonal federal employees was $76,000 per year. Because of the pay freeze, changes in their pay have been negligible, though the freeze did not include in-grade pay increases or cost of living increases. However, according to a Washington Post article, which cites a database used by the Office of Personnel Management, of the 1.8 million federal workers, 423,000 make less than $50,000 per year, while 420,000 make over $100,00 per year. The rest are somewhere in between.

13,000 of the federal workers who make six figures earn more than $180,000.


The issue that conservatives have been harping on is that federal workers make approximately double what their private-sector counterparts make. As of August 2010, federal pay and benefits had continued to grow while private-sector wages had been nearly stagnant for the previous nine years. In fact, the difference between federal and private sector pay and benefits doubled over that time, from an advantage of just over $30,000 to just over $61,000. USAToday conducted an analysis stating that the average federal employee earned more than $120,000 per year, while the average private sector employee earned around $61,000.

Eric Cantor was quoted in the USAToday article as saying, “Americans are fed up with public employee pay scales far exceeding that in the private sector.” According to the USAToday analysis, it’s true that pay increased 33% more than the average rate of inflation, and that federal pay overall increased 20% between 2000 and 2010, compared with just 8.8% for private-sector workers.

However, when backgrounds and education are compared as well, federal workers actually make just 2% more than their private sector counterparts in base salary. When benefits are factored in, federal workers earn about 16% more. In fact, when employees with doctorates are compared, federal employees actually earn a bit less than their private-sector counterparts.

Federal workers, in general, are productive workers, doing their jobs to keep the government running. In contrast, the 112th Congress has been the most unproductive Congress in a very long time. They passed a mere 219 bills, compared with 383 bills passed by the 11th Congress, and 460 by the 110th.

The famous “Do-Nothing Congress” of Truman’s era passed over 900 bills.

Federal lawmakers have spent two years doing nothing but blocking each other’s initiatives and actions, for partisan reasons, and not really offering much in the way of leadership for the country. It’s hard to say the same for regular federal workers, who get fired when they don’t do their jobs.

The Obama administration says the freeze amounted to $60 billion in savings. However, keeping the pay of all federal workers frozen will only help if Congress and the White House make honest efforts to rein in other spending or if they raise revenue through additional taxes.

Furthermore, a large part of keeping the economy going is enabling consumers to spend money. Keeping federal pay frozen at its current levels, in an attempt to cut spending and an attempt to bring the pay of federal workers more in line with the private sector, can actually serve to hurt the fragile economic recovery by hampering the ability of hundreds of thousands more Americans to spend their money.

Rika Christensen is an experienced writer and loves debating politics. Engage with her and more of her work by following her on Facebook and Twitter.

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2 Comments

  • The biggest complaint conservatives have concerning government workers is that they make (on average) twice what their private sector counterparts do?
    Then the private sector counterparts are making half what they should! (on average).
    Cons HATE anything that allows working class folks to make a living wage. After all, a dollar spent on a worker is a dollar not spent on a CEO’s golden parachute.

    • Rika Christensen

      Many private sector employees are making too little, however for some (probably stupid) reason, Congress likes to think that the private sector should be the barometer by which federal workers are measured. With so many hardworking people in the private sector having trouble making ends meet while many corporations are raking in record profits, there’s definitely a huge problem. I think the barometer ought to be flipped.

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