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Negotiations Starting on 2011 Pay Raise: How About 1.4%?

by Ralph Smith |

Federal employees are now starting to see the results of the 2010 federal employee pay raise in their checks as the new year begins. Civilian employees received an average pay raise of 2% this year and the military received an average pay increase of 3.4%. (See the pay tables for the federal GS 2010 pay levels.)

That must mean it is time to start the debate on the pay raise for 2011. And, since January is almost over, that debate is already beginning.

President Obama is now sending his new budget to Congress for consideration.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that the cost of labor went up 1.5% between December 2008 and December 2009. The administration is reportedly asking for a 1.4% pay raise for the military for 2011.

Pay parity with the military is a yearly goal of federal employee unions and Congressional members with large numbers of federal employees in their districts. Meeting that goal under the president’s budget plan would mean that federal civilians would receive a 1.4% average pay raise. A 1.4% pay raise for members of the military would be the lowest for the armed forces since 1973. That is the time period in which the draft ended and the all-volunteer military concept went into effect.

But, as we know from past experience, Congress may well increase pay raises in the legislative process. We are likely to see various figures going back and forth in the process as the budget advances throughout the year.

Federal retirees did not receive a cost of living increase in 2010. That has irritated some readers who did not like active federal employees getting a raise while they did not get one. But, if they are unhappy now, their unhappiness may not go away in 2011. The Social Security Administration has already announced there may not be an increase in the Social Security COLA next year either. Social Security checks went up automatically every year since 1975, when the first automatic cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) took effect, until 2010. The eventual COLA increase, if any, is determined by the amount of inflation as measured by the CPI-W index. (See No COLA for 2011?)

The pay raise, if any, for federal employees is determined by Congress and the President. It is not automatic and not based on any consumer price index.

The political reality is that with the current high unemployment figures, the possibility that Social Security recipients (and federal retirees) may not get a COLA increase, and the multitude of news articles about the high pay and benefits for the federal workforce, an average increase of 1.4% in 2011 may be about the best that our readers currently employed by Uncle Sam could hope for in 2011. The actual figure, of course, will be determined a few months down the road with arguments that may be based on how the economy performs and the politics that surround the federal workforce during an election year.



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About the Author

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Ralph Smith

Ralph Smith is one of the founders of FedSmith.com. He writes in a blunt, entertaining style with a viewpoint that reflects an in-depth knowledge of federal HR issues.

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