Federal Employees News Digest

Mike Causey

Arithmetic vs. politics

Disclaimer: Math is not my strong point. Not by a long shot. Not even by a factor of 222208.8 to the 9th power, times infinity. That’s me. Arithmetic has always been my Achilles Heel. I can figure the proper tip in a restaurant.  As an American boy who grew up loving baseball (as much as the Washington: First In War, First In Peace, Last in the American League, Senators allowed it) I can also do batting averages. Go figure. But for the rest my abilities are limited to the number of toes and fingers I got at birth. Take the worst you’ve encountered, cut his math IQ in half, then half again. Then you’ve got me.  If NASA had put me in charge of the Moon project, Neil Armstrong and buddies might had had to find their way home from a crater near Asbury Park, N.J. If they were lucky enough to land at all unscathed.

Unless you are researching what life is like in a federal prison, you don’t want me doing your taxes, okay.

I twice—not once but twice—had a math teacher encourage me to cheat on test so I could get out of her class. I did. The next year we did it again, to prevent my staying in the class of her best friend in an inner city DC public grade school in Chinatown.

So you get the idea. Math-loser-me!

But every dark, forbidding cloud has a silver lining, right? Which put me at the forefront of that intrepid band of reporters who have devoted their lives (or been condemned for some past sin) to covering the federal workforce. Not necessarily as a political body, research outfit or major service, but as an employer: pay, benefits that sort of thing. Not the stuff Pulitzer prizes are made of (or awarded for) but a living all the same. Try to figure out government workers. Who they are. What they think. What is important to them. How are they the same/different from non-federal workers.

The stats are easy. According to a 2017 study the typical federal is (or was at the time: 47.50 years old…had 13.51 years on the job….51,714 had a bachelor’s degree or higher (which is much, much higher than the general population by the way)…36 percent were members of minority groups…9.93 had disabilities….26.25 percent were military veterans (again much higher than the general population). The average grade in the metro DC area (where most headquarters operations are) was 12.53 while nationwide if was GS 10.38.  90 percent were white collar.  And so on and so on.  You get the idea.


The not-so-typical American worker (you can’t say it but I can) but on steroids. In a good sense.


So covering these people----probably smarter than the average American worker and, accordingly sometimes reviled---isn’t easy.


But it got easy a few weeks back when the administration announced a complex, rather murky, plan to boost personal income of millions (it was thought and hoped) before Election Day.  By about 6.2 percent Not a King’s ransom, to be sure, but a lot or at least a noticeable amount to somebody who’s salary has been cut because of the pandemic’s impact on the economy.  The temporary waiver of the tax on social security (for those whose gross wages are under $3,999.99 per pay period) is supposed to last until next year.  It should impact your current paycheck plus the next seven.  When (details still murky) people will begin paying back the taxes they didn’t pay because they couldn’t isn’t fully settled.  Most likely the 2021 payback will be between January and April of next year.

Depending on the type of political presume you use to view Wisdom coming out of Washington it is either a brilliant way to get more money into the hands of ordinary folks during the all-important Christmas shopping period which Is critical to the economy . Especially now.

This is a Hail Mary political ploy to give people a pre-election shot in the wallet. But also one that many older Americans, many of them federal workers and retirees fear will either unintentionally further weaken the financial base of Social Security OR which will intentionally help set the stage for major surgery on the Social Security program which has many critics.

Whatever the motive and whatever the outcome, feds and retirees picked up on it quickly.  And many are worried. And then made it an on-going complex math story (the kind many also challenged media types don’t to cover). 
So win, lose or draw----whether this is a successful shot-in-the-arm to economy or kick-in-the-butt to Social Security---the outcome remains to be known.
But the bottom line is that many feds---including those who did the technical and math homework on it---got it. And made sure we in the general public, and the math-challenged media, got it. And have fixed it!

Sort of.


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