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Are we starting to see greater equity in federal pay raises?

On Behalf of | Mar 3, 2023 | Firm News

Numbers don’t lie, but they can certainly open themselves up to a wide range of interpretations. This is absolutely the case for the most recent figures on federal pay raises.

FedWeek recently posted its analysis of the pay raise data held by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). The analysis covered the past five years of government wage increases. The numbers are divided by race and gender, and they reveal two clear trends. In turn, these trends present two significantly different possibilities.

Two clear trends emerge

FedWeek compared the average, year-by-year wage increases for several different categories of employees:

  • Those based in D.C.
  • Male
  • Female
  • Asian
  • Black
  • Caucasian
  • Hispanic

From September 2018 to September 2022, the data showed an average overall wage increase of 11.41%.  However, most groups saw their wages increase at a higher rate over that same time period. The only groups that saw smaller wage increases were:

  • Those based in D.C. at 10.62%
  • Caucasians at 11.23%
  • Males at 11.32%

As FedWeek noted, it is reasonable to infer that Caucasian men saw the lowest average pay increases. This trend appears even as Caucasians comprised a smaller portion of the federal workforce than they have in previous years. The percent of Caucasians in the workforce dropped by 1.92% while other racial groups comprised a greater portion of the workforce.

Interpreting the data

Government officials have long expressed their desire to improve “equity” within federal agencies. The current administration has made this one of its goals. Yet, while the numbers may indicate a shift toward greater equity, it’s important to understand what they don’t show.

The numbers do not show if agencies are hiring employees and raising their wages according to their merits:

  • It’s easy, and likely reasonable, to interpret the data favorably. Women and minorities have long suffered unjust pay gaps. Indeed, the numbers continue to reflect lower average salaries for Blacks, Hispanics and women. We might interpret this data as a shift toward paying these employees what they’re actually worth, rather than underpaying them.
  • Alternatively, some may wonder if reverse-discrimination plays any part in the figures.

Caucasians and men should earn according to their merits, the same as women and minorities. For the figures to reflect appropriate wage increases, Caucasian men would have to be underperforming against their peers.

This may be the case, or it may be the case for a large percentage of the workforce. However, it’s also possible that agencies overlooked some Caucasians and men in favor of women and minorities who performed at the same level, or even lower levels.

What happens when employees don’t receive fair wages?

Federal agencies may not discriminate against you based on your membership in any of several protected classes. These classes include both race and gender. If you face discrimination, you have the right to seek a correction.

The problem is that revealing the discrimination is often tricky. Agencies often hide their discrimination by claiming they based their decisions on other factors. Still, there are ways to get to the truth. An experienced attorney may help you explore the numbers and arrive at the correct interpretation.


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