NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) — Federal workers found out this week that President Obama wants to freeze their pay for two years.
He called for the cuts to chip away at the nation’s debt and save $60 billion over 10 years.
“It is the first of many actions we will take in the upcoming budget to put our nation on sound fiscal footing — which will ask for some sacrifice from us all,” the White House said in a statement.
So who is the government worker who will be making this sacrifice? Is the average federal employee a six-figure bureaucrat or an everyman struggling to make it through the recession?
Well, according to government data, average employees are likely to be in their mid-40s.
They work in management, business or financial positions at the Department of Defense, Veterans Affairs or Homeland Security.
They tend to have graduated from college, live outside of Washington, DC, and are white.
They make around $74,000 a year.
Patricia Viers fits this description pretty well. The 52-year old is a customer account specialist and local Union president at the Department of Defense facility in Columbus, Ohio.
As account specialist, Viers spends her days making sure the Army, Navy and Air Force get the parts needed for weapons systems being deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. As a union leader, Viers receives complaints and grievances from employees and works to provide them with assistance.
“I’ve worked for the government for 32 years, and I’m not getting rich off of this — I live in a condo in Columbus and drive a 2001 car,” said Viers, who earns a salary between $53,000 and $72,000. “I’m struggling along with everyone else, and now I’m the one being held back.”
Viers heard about the freeze on Facebook and said the first thought to pop into her head was how much this is going to hurt her retirement savings. The annuities government workers receive are created based on an employee’s highest average salary earned during any three consecutive years.
“I’m getting ready to retire in 2013, and having my pay frozen at these 2010 levels is going to have a profound impact on my retirement income,” said Viers, who had been expecting to receive at least the general salary increase of 1.4% next year.
Still, some think targeting the public sector is a logical — and fair — way to start the debt-chopping process because Federal jobs are viewed as higher paid and more stable than those in the private sector.
“C’mon this is not that bad at all, at least these people get to keep their jobs for the rest of their lives. This is nothing compared to the brutality in private sector,” one CNNMoney reader said in a Facebook comment reacting to the proposal. “Try living day to day not knowing if you will get cut any day with multiple layoffs every year.”
Of course, several federal employee unions disagree with that characterization and view the president’s decision to single out federal employees as a slap in the face.
“It’s true that federal sector jobs have been more stable than private sector jobs, but federal employees are struggling in this economy too and aren’t sitting pretty as some would believe,” said Cory Bythrow, communications director at the National Federation of Federal Employees, which represents 110,000 employees.
“This is going to affect everyone — from those employees in defense like intelligence analysts and mechanics strapping armor on humvees, to civilian employees like park rangers and doctors and nurses for [Veteran Affairs],” said Bythrow.
Janet Kopenhaver, the Washington representative for Federally Employed Women, agreed that government workers shouldn’t be the only ones making sacrifices for the government’s problems.
“What we’re most concerned about is that all the economic problems are now going to be on the backs of government workers, since the other ideas already being talked about as part of the Republican leadership agenda are hiring freezes and mandatory furloughs,” said Kopenhaver. “Federal workers, who provide the services Americans rely on every day and may often take for granted, are going to be hurting.”