Federal pay freeze must serve as warning to the public sector

President Barack Obama’s deci- sion to institute a two-year pay freeze for civilian federal employees accentuates the sheer tone-deafness of any public agency, such as the Mahoning County Children Services Board and the Youngstown City School District, that grants raises in this anemic economy.

The freeze announced by the president last week is projected to save $5 billion. And while that pales in comparison to the $1 trillion deficit, the symbolism of the act is enormous. It is a recognition on Obama’s part that government and other public-sector employees must make sacrifices, the way private sector workers have been doing for several years.

“The hard truth is that getting this deficit under control is going to require some broad sacrifice, and that sacrifice must be shared by employees of the federal government,” the president said.

In reporting on the freeze, the New York Times said, “The pay freeze amounted to an opening bid as the president and Congressional Republican leaders begin jousting in earnest over tax and spending policy.”

The Times also noted that Obama’s action “represents a gesture toward public anger over the anemic economic recovery and rising national debt.”

High unemployment

That anger can be felt throughout the country, but especially in regions like the Mahoning Valley where the unemployment rate has been consistently higher than the state and national levels, and where private-sector employers have been demanding concessions and even givebacks in return for having a job.

The federal pay freeze erased a 1.4 percent across-the-board raise in 2011 for 2.1 million federal civilian employees, including those in the Defense Department, and ensured no increase in 2012.

Congress has final say on federal employee compensation, and given the current anti-government climate that swept so many new people into office, it is possible that senators and representatives could push for even deeper cuts in federal pay and benefits.

According to the Times, the freeze would not affect uniformed military personnel, and civilian workers who are promoted would still receive the higher pay that comes with the higher grade or position.

It would be a breach of faith if, in response to the president’s action, promotions became the way to ensure that federal workers ultimately come out ahead.

On the local level, we have criticized public sector entities, such as the Youngstown school system, that have approved pay raises for employees who are surviving the economic storm largely unscathed.

We repeat our call to the Mahoning County commissioners not to approve the raises granted by the governing body of the county CSB. The pay boost is unfair to the taxpayers and is not justified in the current environment.

Having a job in the public sector these days is a major reward in and of itself.

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