Why Federal Workers Are Better Off Than the Rest of Us
Business + Economy

Why Federal Workers Are Better Off Than the Rest of Us

iStockphoto/The Fiscal Times

The federal government is America’s largest employer, with more than 2.1 million workers (and another 1.3 million active duty military personnel). A new Gallup survey finds those federal workers have it pretty good — or better than the rest of the workforce, at least.

Gallup found that 44 percent of federal workers are “thriving” financially, compared with 34 percent of all other workers. Another 39 percent of government employees were classified as “struggling” — a rate that, while high, is still three percentage points lower than for non-government workers. Gallup found that 17 percent of federal workers are “suffering” financially, compared with 24 percent of other workers.

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Gallup says its measure of financial well-being goes beyond simply asking about salary and benefits to factor in more subjective answers about perceived standards of living, affordability of basic necessities and financial anxiety. The results are colored by the region of country respondents live in, their family size, cost of living, debt and other factors, Gallup’s Jessica Mangskau and Steve Ander wrote in detailing the survey findings.

“These data show that federal employment is likely associated with higher levels of economic stability and reductions in the stress of providing for a comfortable lifestyle because federal workers report higher financial well-being,” Mangskau and Ander wrote.

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The pollsters noted that federal pay has been a subject of debate in recent years — and it’s an increasingly critical question now as the federal workforce will soon face a significant brain drain, with 31 percent of government employees eligible for retirement by 2017. Civilian federal employees saw their pay frozen from 2011 through 2013, and got 1 percent raises the follow two years. President Obama has proposed a 1.3 percent pay increase for federal employees in his 2016 budget and called for expanding federal health benefits and allowing six weeks of paid family or parental leave.

“The last several years have been challenging for the federal workforce,” the White House budget said, warning that budgetary spending caps for next year and beyond “will make it increasingly challenging for the federal government to keep pace with the private sector, especially in hard to recruit fields, both in terms of pay and in areas such as training.”

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But Gallup found that “federal employees consistently have higher financial well-being,” even compared to non-federal workers with the same household income or similar levels of education, suggesting that the lifestyle benefits, job security or other factors in government work help reduce financial stress and provide a stronger overall sense of well-being. In short: It’s not just about the money.

Gallup’s figures were based on more than 80,000 interviews with American ages 18 and older who had full-time jobs. The interviews were conducted in the 12 months through Feb. 15.

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