Can feds afford a 2021 pay raise?

Crazy question for the career federal workforce in this crazy year. Please consider it carefully. And the question is this: can you afford a pay raise this year? Not do you deserve one? Not do you need one? The question is can you afford one? As in how much will it take? 1%, 3.5%, 7%, for it to be worth the flack and grief you will get from politicians. From the media. From your neighbors. From your laid off brother-in-law?

Probably most feds say yes to the do-I-deserve-a-raise part. Even though the country has been through some very, very hard times, they need it and they deserve it. Probably lots of ordinary American citizens — even if they’ve taken pay cuts or lost work — if they thought about it hard for a minute, would say yes. And the record of feds in 2020 would back them up. It has been a tough, tragic year for most people. But many of us have made it so far. Show’em the money!

Then the question is how much? How big a raise? Since they are gonna take a lot of heat if they get a raise, what’s the magic number that makes it okay? Is it 1% as originally proposed by President Trump in January. Or 3.5% as countered by Senate Democrats in February. Or the zero amount — a 2021 federal pay freeze — as recently proposed by Senate appropriators. They are working frantically — by Capitol Hill standards — to avert a pre-Christmas shutdown of the government. While that is unthinkable and a criminally stupid concept in the of a world wide pandemic, we all remember it has happened before when it was also unthinkable.

So move on from do-feds-deserve-a-2021 pay raise? Does it have to be to be worth the flak they will take for it, no matter its amount? Even the harshest critic of big government, bureaucracy, etc., would probably concede that career civil servants are necessary. At times even desirable or critical. The question really isn’t do they deserve a pay raise during a pandemic that has cost millions their jobs. The question is can they afford one as small as the 1% that President Donald Trump proposed January 25 when many experts say the minimum due them is 3.5%, as House Democrats proposed in February. Now, in light of the pandemic — and maybe for other reasons too — Senate Republicans want a 2021 pay freeze as part of the money packages Congress is working on to prevent a pre-Christmas government-wide shutdown.

This has been a crazier-than-usual election season. And an even crazier post-election period. And the outcome is still to be determined.

Depending on the final make up of Congress in 2021 — based on on-going recounts and upcoming special elections — the stars could align so that career civil servants could theoretically get the full 3.5% originally proposed retroactively next year. Probably not, but it could happen. Or the zero pay raise — the proposal de jour — may prevail. Or both sides could compromise at 1%.

Given the state of the economy, caused by the virus, there are good arguments that feds should sacrifice too. Millions of people were laid off. Millions have taken pay cuts. Some of the jobs will never return. Congress has done little to bailout the public while making sure that its income and benefits — things like health insurance — continue. But there also lots of reasons that feds deserve, not only a pat on the back, but also a pay raise because so much of what they do is taken for granted (which shows they are doing it well), and 24/7 in some hot spots. And that 1% is just not enough.

Consider:

  • Even if you don’t fly very often, or travel has been curtailed because of coronavirus, there is still lots of air traffic out there. And when you are five miles up, going 500 miles per hour, it is nice to know that well-trained air traffic controllers are making sure that your airplane doesn’t run into something. Like a mountain or another airplane. And it is reassuring that FAA investigators are out there every day helping make sure the aircraft you are in can take off and land as promised. The fact that you probably don’t think about it much, if ever, is even more reassuring. Somebody is always doing their job, which we take for granted. Which is nice.
  • No matter what you’ve given up during the pandemic, odds are you still eat. Daily. Which is great (and we don’t like to talk about where it comes from), but how we get it safely is a mini-miracle. Meat packing plants are a virus hot spot. And things would be worse, much worse, without federal inspectors. And they’ve paid a price doing their jobs. So have law enforcement personnel. And medical people at all levels. Like the people who swept D.C. before the Inauguration looking for “radioactive material.” Stuff we don’t think about or more often don’t even know about. But it happens. So how do you put a price on that?

1%? Probably not the magic number!

Nearly Useless Factoid

By Alazar Moges

Three Founding Fathers and former presidents have died on Independence Day. John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe. Presidents Adams and Jefferson in 1826, and President Monroe in 1831.

Source: Library of Congress 

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