Obama’s ‘Raise’ for Federal Workers is a Bad Joke
President Obama, five years late, in his fifth State of the Union speech, decried the terrible income gap in the US, a gap which has worsened during his years in the White House. Saying he was tired of the obstruction of his policies by Republicans in Congress, he said he would take action on his own, and as evidence offered up the puny “fix” of raising the minimum wage paid to employees working on federal projects from its current $7.25 to $10.10 per hour. This executive order, which could have been done when he took office in the depths of the Great Recession back in 2009, would be not immediate but would be phased in over the next three years.
What a pathetic joke!
As the New York Times pointed out the next day in its report on the president’s speech, the “raise” he was offering would only apply to “a few hundred thousand” workers. If we assume that “few” to be 300,000 people, and that each of those people works a 40-hour week 50 weeks per year, that would mean that in the first year, when the incremental increase will be 95 cents/hour, each worker currently earning $7.25 per hour will earn an extra $1900, for a total gain by all the impacted workers of $570 million.
Just to give a sense of how little that $570 million is, it works out to just over one-third of the unit cost of one F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. That’s the Pentagon’s latest new fighter jet, designed and built by Lockheed-Martin, the one that has no enemy to fight and that is probably too flawed and too costly to ever risk in battle anyhow.
What is really obscene about the president’s token wage-increase gesture is that the $10.10 wage that he is saying the federal government will ultimately pay to its contract workers in three years would, in constant dollars, still be less than what the federal minimum wage was back in 1968, almost half a century ago! Heck, if the president had really wanted to show the obstructive Republicans and the American people that he meant business about going it alone, he could have used that same executive authority to grant those impoverished workers an immediate raise to $15 per hour -- the rate that voters approved as a minimum wage last November in Seattle, Washington, and that labor activists say would actually go a ways towards alleviating rampant US poverty.