Before political correctness took over, one of America’s favorite comedians, Henny Youngman, made a very good living with angst-driven jokes often reflecting on Mrs. Youngman. Not unusual for the time. Most people knew most of his jokes before he told them. But we laughed anyhow because, prior to the enlightenment, most of us thought they were actually funny. Until told they really weren’t. At his peak, and at the top of his list was this crowd-pleaser:
“How’s Your Wife?” To which Henny, as we knew he would, answered, “Compared to what?” He also often said “take my wife, please!!!” Although neither line would work the same today, the Youngman’s apparently were at peace with it. They were married 59 years, until her death. So substitute wife or life and we are off to the races….
Which brings me to a newspaper reporter I used to work with. Very smart guy. Funny but deep. And one of his favorite lines — sometimes a conversation stopper — when someone asked a question, made a statement or had a comment was three words, “compared to what?” Tuesday’s column — “Can feds afford a 2021 pay raise?” — asked civil servants how much of a pay raise it would take in 2021 to make up the flack they will inevitably get from people who won’t be getting any pay raises mainly because they no longer have jobs. Some have been out of work since March. Some may never go back. Congress — with members and staff are still on the payroll of course — are deciding how much help folks need.
The 2021 pay raise options range from the 1% proposed pre-pandemic by President Trump, to the 3.5% favored by unions and some congressional Democrats, to as much as 7%. And of course, maybe zero.
Reactions were interesting. A Miami-based fed said folks in the private sector “do not have a clue what feds endure.” Many, many feds are on frontlines, from VA hospitals and airport screeners to dozens of Secret Service officers sidelined by COVID-19.
Another fed stressed that a 1% raise wouldn’t go far covering 2021’s new higher health premiums. Premiums are going up an average of 4.9%. Her point:
“Your question regarding federal pay, and whether there should be an increase in federal pay for FY 2021, left out one critical issue. The cost of FEHB will rise next year, again. We have to buy health insurance in the USA; we have no other option. We’ll need to pay for the increased premiums, so, yes, there should be an equivalent increase in federal pay.
The façade of “low inflation” has been going on for quite a while also, and the cost of food, utilities, and taxes (especially real estate taxes) continues to rise also. We need to be able to pay for all that.
From a simple utilitarian point of view, federal pay needs to rise to cover costs of being alive enough to perform federal work for the citizens and residents of the country. My position is a low-paid level, and all these hidden increases in cost hurt.”
Another saw it through a slightly different prism:
“I read your articles with great anticipation as you always articulate the current events and impacts to the federal workforce.
During this time in our country and the rest of the world are trying to survive this pandemic. It has negatively impacted every aspect of our lives. We have lost love ones, Friends, and co-workers. People have lost livelihoods and now sit in line to receive food donations where they never had to before.
It is a terrible time for all, however the question is if federal workers get a raise is it worth the grief they could get, while so many other Americans are out of work and struggling, my answer is YES. Not because I am insensitive to the strife so many people are facing at this time. I say yes because while everyone was healthy and the economy was good prior to covid, federal workers for several year had their pay frozen and did not receive a cost of living allowance raise.
No one in the public workforce spoke up or even cared if federal workers pay was frozen to help balance the budget.
We all wish that everyone comes through this safe and healthy and we can return to some form or normalcy. Federal workers should not be asked to once again bite the bullet and not be compensated just to satisfy the public’s perception of the federal workforce.”
So, just what sort of dent, if any, would a 1% pay raise put in a 4.9% hike in premiums. And would my reporter friend say pay and premiums are like comparing apples and oranges?
The lowest health premium for a non-postal family next year is $3,300. Per year in Kaiser basic. The most expensive is SAMBA High option which will cost a family $10,570 in premiums next year. For feds in the Washington area there are 42 other plans with a wide variety of premiums to choose from in 2021. Some plans are actually holding line or cutting premiums. That’s why they have an annual open season when people can shop, compare and change plans. So the impact of a pay raise, no matter at what percent, would depend on the actual premium selected by the employee.
According to 2017 data from the Office of Personnel Management, the average salary of non-postal feds worldwide was $84,913. The average employee at the time was 47.50 years old with 13.51 years of service. The average grade was GS-10 outside of Washington D.C., and GS 12 in the DC-MD-VA metro area.
So far the federal government hasn’t laid off anybody because of the pandemic. The private sector has let millions go. Does that make government workers lucky? Or is there more to it than that? Should they be modestly recognized with a small pay raise? Or, despite performing unseen round-the-clock vital services, should they bite the bullet like so many unemployed Americans? Or is it a little more complicated than that? Maybe it falls into the “compared to what?” category.
Nearly Useless Factoid
By Alazar Moges
Although the quintessential office space is a small square, cubicle actually has no etymological relationship to cube. The word is related to the Latin word cubiculum and the verb cubare which means “to lie down.” The first cubicles were actually private spaces for sleeping, such as within a dormitory, and weren’t always square in shape. Thus the association with cubes, while logical, is purely coincidental.