You thought the recession had caused hideous human misery so far? You thought the rampant foreclosures, the persistent high unemployment, the collapse of venerable companies, the evisceration of public confidence in whole segments of the economy, the conversion of economic titans into welfare cases was disturbing?
Friends, you ain't seen nothing yet. You want disturbing? I'll give you disturbing:
Ongoing efforts to freeze or cut federal pay to help control U.S. spending are demoralizing and bad for recruitment, according to Democratic lawmakers and unions.
I read that lede and had to check to see whether maybe it was the Washington Times rather than the Washington Post, wielding sharp-edged satire.
Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.), whose Northern Virginia district is home to at least 70,000 federal workers, called the Republican proposals [to freeze federal employee salaries] "a cheap shot."
"Every time that happens, it has a demoralizing impact on the federal workforce and frankly discourages young people from joining the federal workforce," Connolly said in an interview. "Treating them like a punching bag may make for a good story back home, but it's really a long-term cost to the very people we're trying to serve."
Gerry, I'm sure that the experienced attorneys who are blowing up my fax line scrambling for jobs as paralegals feel just terrible about federal employees not getting raises or bonuses. It's a national tragedy.
And how much are federal employees hurting, really? Well . . . .
Federal employees making salaries of $100,000 or more jumped from 14% to 19% of civil servants during the recession's first 18 months — and that's before overtime pay and bonuses are counted.
Federal workers are enjoying an extraordinary boom time — in pay and hiring — during a recession that has cost 7.3 million jobs in the private sector.
The highest-paid federal employees are doing best of all on salary increases. Defense Department civilian employees earning $150,000 or more increased from 1,868 in December 2007 to 10,100 in June 2009, the most recent figure available.
When the recession started, the Transportation Department had only one person earning a salary of $170,000 or more. Eighteen months later, 1,690 employees had salaries above $170,000.
The trend to six-figure salaries is occurring throughout the federal government, in agencies big and small, high-tech and low-tech.
So the two million federal employees have not exactly been subjected to extreme belt-tightening.
Do some federal employees make less than what they could in the private sector? Yes. My starting salary with the feds was pitiful. But salaries have been steadily trending up. The benefits are excellent. The job security is unparalleled in the private sector — it's very difficult to get fired, thanks to unions and civil service rules. It's a trade-off. And frankly, I'm skeptical that 1700 people from Transportation could make more than $170k in the private sector if they tried.
But two million people is a big voting block. Their unions, through political contributions, wield mighty influence. So the mere notion that federal employees, like everyone else, ought to cut back during a national recession can generate an angry response like the one above.
California is discovering the economic effects of having public employee unions run rampant — our criminal justice system is driven by the prison guards' unions, and public educator benefits are bankrupting us for questionable returns. To the feds, handing out sinecures for political support seems like chump change compared to Social Security and Medicare, so it gets less attention. But brother, those billions can add up.
Last 5 posts by Ken White
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