Every time white-collar government workers get a 1 percent pay raise it pushes up the price tag of Uncle Sam's $80 billion payroll another $800 million. That's one reason Congress and the White House differ over whether federal workers will get a 2 percent or 3 percent January raise.
Eight hundred million per point is impressive, except when it trickles down to the paycheck of the typical government worker. Then it seems less big a deal. Which may explain the less-than- grateful batch of letters to the Monday Morning Quarterback:"Pardon me while I don't cheer! We get a 2 percenter if the president has his way, or a 3 percenter (be still my heart!!!) if good old Congress has its way. This is the same Congress . . . that took our 3 percent raise last January then allowed itself another $12,000 add-on per member a month later.
"I have another suggestion for Congress and the White House. Stick the raise! I mean, stick it back into the Treasury, stick it to foreign aid, use it to save the whales. By the time we get the raise, of whatever amount, local landlords and store owners will have had time to change all their price tags. My rent has increased three times in three years, each time by a higher percentage than my pay raise. I don't think I can afford another raise." S.B., Bethesda
"I have some questions for our political leaders: What is the point of a 2 percent pay raise? Does that satisfy your conscience that we are given some sort of raise? How are people expected to improve their lives when expenses are continually rising in all aspects of life? And we live in a particularly expensive area.
"When a person is stuck with no chance for advancement, what incentive is a 2 percent raise? Will I forever have to work two jobs? People assume we all average $27,000 a year. Most people in my office make less than $18,000. If Congress gives itself big raises and the postal unions negotiate their wages, why is it other federal workers aren't given the same advantages?" N.E.C., Springfield
"Every year about this time I begin suffering from federal heartburn. The brains are trying to decide what tiny pay raise they will bless federal employes with this time. The more they talk about comparisons with the private sector the less it means to them.
" . . . Landlords will increase rents, from 5 percent to 30 percent, whether we get a raise or not. All federal workers aren't at the GS 12 level.
"The 2 percent raise is another slap from the president, sitting comfortably in the White House or his California ranch. With everything else going up, what benefit would we get from a 2 percent raise?" J.W., Alexandria
" . . . One thing about your column that bothers me is that you keep using the average $27,000-per-year figure for federal workers. Averages are anything one wants them to be. My landlord takes one look at your column and takes more than my raise.
"As a fed with more than 10 years' service, I make less than $17,000 per year. Hundreds of others make less because the 'average' figure includes some very high salaries. Sometime, please show what percentage of employes in this area make under $20,000 so we are not all looked upon by our neighbors as high-paid, fair game." R.C.R., Baltimore
Here are some figures that may shed some light on that question. Federal workers in Washington are paid an average of just more than $32,000 per year. Outside Washington, the civil service average is $27,000. In 1985, the government published a grade breakdown of more than 250,000 white-collar federal jobs in the Washington area. It showed that Grade 7 employes then were paid an average of $20,453. There were 24,901 employes in that grade. GS 6, which pays less, had 17,817 employes; GS 5, 21,829; GS 4, 13,016; GS 3, 6,378; GS 2, 1,834, and GS 1, 166 employes.