Friday, April 08, 2011

On the shut down

It's looking increasingly likely that tonight at midnight, our Federal government will shut down. Since we'll be one of those 800,000 government workers affected by the shutdown, I thought I'd address a few of the things I've been hearing/reading.

Government workers make too much money!

Government employees do make, on average, more than the average US taxpayer. That is because most government workers are professionals (lawyers, engineers, scientists) who make more money in general. If you compare private and public sector, job title for job title, government workers earn less.

We make a conscious decision for Ry to work for the government. He went to a good school, works hard, and is good at what he does. For that, he makes about 80% of what a private sector employee would make. He also gets to come home at a reasonable hour in the evenings and has only had to work on a weekend a few times during his nearly 9 years in this role. I like having him around, and the kids do too. It's worth the smaller salary for Ry to have some work-life balance.

But what about those benefits?

While I can't speak to the benefits that everyone gets, we pay 30% of our health care insurance premiums. It's not a small $ amount every month and the insurance plan isn't great. I paid far less, for much better insurance before I quit my job to be a stay at home mom.
My husband also has a Thrift Savings Plan, which is nearly identical to a private sector 401K. He pays in, the government matches a little, and we hope that its value increases over time. In fact, his TSP is not even as good as a 401K in the great state of New Jersey. NJ taxes contributions rather than allowing tax-free contributions like they do for 401Ks.

And all that paid time off?

Ry has about as much vacation time as other folks in his profession and with his experience. He gets about 4 weeks a year. It's nice, but not outrageous. While he does earn a fair amount of sick time each year, his sick time is also his disability pay. If he gets sick, has to have surgery or becomes disabled, his sick leave is it.

Shouldn't we all share the pain?

Absolutely! As a matter of fact, Ry will not be getting raises for at least the next 2 years, since President Obama has frozen pay increases. He'd like to freeze them for the next 5 years. Frankly, if they had come and said Ry had to take furlough days or a wage cut, it would have sucked, but I would have understood. After all, we're trying to balance a budget, here.

But that's not really the point, is it?

The point is that next week, Ry is likely to have to go to work. Because of what he does and the way he is funded, he'll likely be working as long as the government is shut down. Of course, he won't get paid until the government is up and running again. If this shutdown lasts 27 days like the one in 1995 did, we'll be using a good amount of our savings to continue paying our bills and feeding our kids. A furlough that lasts a whole bunch longer than that will really start to hurt.

We're the lucky ones, though. At least Ry will (probably) be paid when this is all over. There are hundreds of thousands of "non-essential" employees who may not be paid at all. Consider for a moment what an unexpected 10% (or 15% or 20%) pay cut would mean to your family. Especially consider that the cut comes all at one time, not spread out over a year. How long would you be able to pay your mortgage?

And why is this all happening? Because the Congress can't act like grown ups and come to an agreement over a budget that has been in continuing resolution since last September. It's not even going to save any money! The furlough in 1995 cost $1.4 billion.

So anyway, I'm sorta grrr today. I'm grrr that our politicians would rather play politics than do their jobs. I'm grrr at all the people who think that we live in some kind of government employee bubble. And I'm grr at the fact that we'll be hurting for as long as this furlough lasts. So, we won't be eating out at all. We'll be taking our lunches. We're looking at our expenses and seeing what we can do without. And we're praying that this comes to a quick resolution so we can keep on being the bill-paying, tax-paying, society-contributing citizens our politicians say they want.


melydia said...

You know, I've heard of government employees who are overpaid before. I like to call them Congressmen.

Anonymous said...

I love it when people go on and on about how if you work for the government you are basically on the dole. Yes, I do make a very good wage working for the City of Chicago, but I'm not part of the union so I am one of the many who isn't receiving any paid holiday's and am subject to additional furlough days (hoping that this comes to an end this year, but I'm not holding my breath).

Do I make more than the average city worker? Absolutely. Do I make less than I could in the private sector? Absolutely. I will say that the medical costs (because we are going with Illinois HMO) are lower (but we are of course more limited in choice and range) but I'm definitely not getting any more vacation or sick time than I got in the private sector.

Thankfully that got the CR passed and Ryan will be getting paid this week. I certainly hope that they sort this out quickly.

ldupbeat said...

John works for the government, so I understand your article well. I work for the school system and something I get tired of people saying is how teachers (I'm on a teacher's contract) have two weeks off for Christmas and the summers off. Well, this truly is nice, but at our district we get 10 days of sick leave off a year and 1 personal day. If someone dies, you don't get separate funeral leave. You take sick leave. You can't your personal day on any day that precedes or follows any holiday or special school day off. So, teacher's are very limited as to when they can be sick or take off. Not everyone has a death in the family, illness or personal need during Christmas break or the summer. Government employment overall is a blessing because it is much more secure (generally) then the private sector, but it does have limits.

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