The Campaign Spot

Election-driven news and views . . . by Jim Geraghty.

The Phantom ‘Slashing’ of Federal Workers’ Pay


In the Metro section of today’s Washington Post, Rep. Elijah Cummings discusses the coming sequestration and laments the horrific treatment of federal government workers.

‘We ought to be rewarding those folks. But instead a lot of times they hear negative comments about their work. Their pay is slashed. They are made to pay more in pension contributions. I could go on and on and on. Every chance I get I try to thank our federal employees. I try to acknowledge them for the many contributions they make, and I try to remind my colleagues of the important role they play in our lives.”

Where are the federal workers who have had their pay slashed?

Yes, the Pentagon is considering having 800,000 civilian employees work four days a week instead of five, creating an effective 20 percent pay cut. But those furloughs haven’t kicked in yet. And as extraordinarily frustrating as it must be to experience that furlough, it is 80 percent of the previous pay for 80 percent of the previous work. The pay rate itself hasn’t been reduced. A furloughed worker could try to find some sort of part-time or freelance work on that extra weekday.

As for the lament that federal workers must pay more in pension contributions… many private sector workers are asking, “What’s a pension?”

By most standards, the amount paid by federal workers into the Federal Employees Retirement System is pretty small, when you consider that in the private sector, an employer who will match your 401(k) contribution – 50%! – is considered pretty rare and generous:

Under current rules, employees under the Federal Employees Retirement System pay 0.8 percent of salary toward a civil service retirement benefit, plus the standard Social Security payroll tax – typically 6.2 percent of salary, but 4.2 percent [in 2011 and 2012] Those under the Civil Service Retirement System do not pay Social Security taxes; instead, they pay 7 percent of salary toward their civil service benefit.

A law enacted this year required that for those first hired into the government, or who are returning to federal employment with less than five years of prior federal employment, in calendar year 2013 or later will have to pay 3.1 percent of salary toward their FERS civil service benefit rather than 0.8 percent. (That provision will not affect the CSRS employees since that system covers those first hired before 1984.)

Some federal workers argue that the fact that they haven’t gotten a raise since January 2010 amounts to a pay cut.  Again, if you are paid the same dollar amount as the previous year, most wouldn’t consider that a pay cut — and it certainly doesn’t warrant the label “slashed.”

Tags: Elijah Cummings , federal employees


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