Non-Furloughed Federal Employees Are Not Being Paid

An important factual correction. Many people believe that “only” the 800,000 federal employees who are furloughed are not being paid. That’s wrong.

FBI agents working kidnapping cases are not being paid. The Capitol Police who just risked their lives to protect members of Congress are not being paid. Forest Service personnel who are fighting wildfires are not being paid.

Over 2 million federal employees are doing their jobs for free at the moment. How long would you do that? How long could you afford to? Would your creditors accept a promise that someday the House of Representatives will act and then you will be able to pay your rent, your utility bill and your credit card bill?

It’s public service indeed to persist in one’s duties under these conditions.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is a Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans and drugs. He is the author or co-author of numerous books and scholarly articles, and has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, The Guardian (UK), the San Francisco Chronicle and other media outlets. When he is not in the San Francisco Bay Area, he is usually in London, where he is an ad hoc policy adviser to the national and city government, an honorary professor of psychiatry at Kings College, a senior editorial adviser to the journal Addiction, and a member of The Athenaeum. When he is not in the San Francisco Bay Area or London, he is usually in Washington D.C., where he serves as a frequent science and policy advisor to federal agencies, and where he has served previously as an appointee to a White House commission and several Secretarial task forces. From July 2009-2010, he served as Senior Policy Advisor at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. When he is not in the San Francisco Bay Area or London or Washington D.C., he is usually in the Middle East, where since 2004 he has volunteered in the international humanitarian effort to rebuild Iraq’s mental health care system. This work has taken him to Turkey, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon to teach and consult with Iraqi health professionals and policy makers.

13 thoughts on “Non-Furloughed Federal Employees Are Not Being Paid”

  1. Sadly, this gives Republicans just what they want. Public service for the 99%. Private profit for the 1%.

    Regrettably, our Republic was founded on the premise of free enterprise subsidized by a government bent on supplying cheap labor. In close to 250 years of “freedom,” we’ve managed to eliminate outright chattel slavery (while preserving the peculiar institution of mass incarceration, which if you think about it, actually represents a more “flexible” kind of slavery since it can be applied to anyone of any skin color who violates the social norms about what the proper drugs to use are); sort of accept the existence, if not the legitimacy, of unions; and very little else except a minimum wage — which now gets cheaper every year for the employer in accordance with our “tradition” of exploiting labor as a public value — and a health care program that may work better as a subsidy for employers to further shirk their obligations to employees than it does in preserving one’s health.

    Yes, return the federal workers to their vital duties — OK, I suppose we’ll include the DEA just for laughs — at full pay ASAP. That will be just Day 1 of actually respecting ALL workers. The Dems have plenty of heavy lifting to do themselves, once the dogcatcher has rounded up the rabid hounds.

  2. You should add one more thing–there’s certainly a set of federal employees who are not only getting paid but are whining about even the possibility of delays. These are the same jerks who brought us the shutdown to begin with.

  3. Over 2 million federal employees are doing their jobs for free at the moment.

    An important factual correction: None of the government employees are “doing their jobs for free”. Their pay is being deferred until such a time as the funding is restored. It’s very likely that even the furloughed employees will receive back-pay for not being allowed to do their jobs. Congress has granted back-pay to furloughed federal workers after each of the past 16 shutdowns that have taken place since 1976. As layoffs go, furloughed federal workers are enjoying quite an advantage over what the average private-sector employee faces under similar circumstances.

    How long would you do that? How long could you afford to?

    Sudden loss of income can happen to anybody at any time, which is why financial experts unanimously recommend saving back at the very least three month’s pay in easily liquidated investments separate from retirement savings in case of such an event. Anyone taking these responsible measures (as we all should — my emergency fund is over six months income) will easily be able to go far longer than the government shutdown is likely to last.


      HOWELL: Do you think that federal workers, when this ends, are deserving of their back pay or not?

      VARNEY: That is a loaded question isn’t it? You want my opinion? This is President Obama’s shutdown. He is responsible for shutting this thing down; he’s taken an entirely political decision here. No, I don’t think they should get their back pay, frankly, I really don’t. I’m sick and tired of a massive, bloated federal bureaucracy living on our backs, and taking money out of us, a lot more money than most of us earn in the private sector, then getting a furlough, and then getting their money back at the end of it. Sorry, I’m not for that. I want to punish these people. Sorry to say that, but that’s what I want to do.

      1. Yes, well, Varney’s obviously an ass, but he’s paid to be — he’s a Faux News Business talking head. (Anon had me ROTFLMAO at the thought of sending him a political donation. If I wrote something that — shall we say — funny, I’d be reluctant to put my name next to it too.) He doesn’t have a vote in Congress. You want to see something really asinine, check out Congressman Randy Neugebauer’s blame-the-victim shenanigans.

  4. This is only a problem if a payday passes and one of those non-furloughed workers do not get paid, since workers are not paid daily anyway. It is extremely likely that they will be paid and every federal worker is aware of this. So it’s a stretch to say they are working for free. The ones that might need to worry are those that are not allowed to show up for work. Their chance of not getting paid is lower. While it’s nice to get to stay home… some might really depend on their paychecks depending on their financial condition. It is nice to have 3 months savings… but life happens and sometimes that isn’t realistic.

    Workign for Calfironia, I was paid with an IOU back in 2009 I think. If I remember correctly BofA would not take them but my credit unions would. I wonder if the Feds could do the same? If so, I would think their IOU’s would be just as good as cash (in fact wouldn’t they just become alternate currency since all money is an IOU from the Fed?).

    1. Exactly. It’s not that they’re “not getting paid”, it’s that they’re not getting paid on time. Most employees worldwide could assert Keith’s claim that they’re “doing their jobs for free at the moment” until payday. I have a 16 to 19 day gap between the first day of a given pay period and the day my paycheck is deposited into my account, but I can assure you that I do not do my job for free at any moment.

      In most states furloughed federal employees are eligible for state unemployment benefits while they wait it out, and though they must pay it back if they are paid retroactively as they have been before, it still amounts to a free payday loan — a pretty good deal compared to the usual payday loan rates.

      This isn’t to say that non-furloughed federal workers who are being asked to continue working aren’t making sacrifices. They are guaranteed their usual wages, which are only deferred until the impasse is over, but in the meantime they are expected to cover their expenses out of their own savings, essentially giving the federal government a free payday loan for the period of the deferment, potentially at some cost to themselves in terms of lost interest accumulation. I’d feel better about the situation if it were federal law that these employees must be paid usual and customary payday-loan rates for the period of deferment to cover the cost of loaning the government their paychecks during that time. Wouldn’t that chap Neugebauer’s hide! As an alternative, I like the IOU idea with the stipulation that any bank that has ever received a federal government bailout loan is required to honor them and any bank that doesn’t honor them is forever banned from receiving a federal bailout in the future.

  5. My husband and I are both in this group. We both work for an Army hospital. Some of our admin people were furloughed initially, but my understanding is that they’ll be coming back tomorrow. Yes, we do expect to be paid, but we don’t know when. Furthermore, thanks to the sequester working conditions had already dramatically worsened, and a lot of people are still recovering from the financial impact of the summer furloughs. If the debt ceiling is crashed, however, which is looking increasingly likely, I doubt we will be paid, and I expect there will be massive layoffs from the federal system. Of course, from the GOP standpoint this is all a feature, not a bug. They want to weaken the federal government, and driving people to quit (or engineering them getting laid off) is part of the plan.

  6. I would expect that this will lead to a noticeable permanent uptick in both federal staffing costs and contracting costs. It has long been a byword that working for the government doesn’t pay as well as working for the private sector (and it’s clear that for professionals at least it doesn’t) but that the stability of the job (as well as the public service) makes it worthwhile. Take away that stability, and you’re going to have to pay more to get the same talent. (And no, the regulations on pay grades will not be a major bar to doing that.)

  7. As a manager having to address questions from employees who cannot purchase gas or pay child care is a big conern. Federal excepted employees already have not been paid for 4 days in their last check due to having no budget even though they worked the 4 days. As the time goes on with no continuing resolution DOL will be backed up and no assurace the next check will be paid on time. More issues with food, travel expenses and child care concerns for the employees.Even though this would dishearten and worry most employees working anywhere my employees have been coming to work and talking to SSA beneficairies who are concerned what impact the debt ceiling will have on their SS checks. I challenge any employee out there to not get paid for two weeks and still come to work without income due to no fault of your own and still remain pleasant and helpful serving customers all day every day. No one compares to our federal employess working at SSA quite simply we have the best.

  8. Hey Keith, I agree with you. Federal employees are doing their job. But how long will this be continued? How long they can afford to? They are also having the equal rights and the laws which a regular employee does have. If they would knowing their rights and it this wouldn't occur any more.

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