The White House released its annual salary report last week, and as usual, it’s nice to work for Barack Obama: Most staffers who were there for more than a year got a salary bump. A bigger one than you did.
The last time we checked in on White House salaries, we found that an astonishing 75% of continuing staffers got raises from 2009 to 2010—a huge number given the fact that, according to compensation experts, most companies had skipped routine raises that year in reaction to the economic crisis that the White House was busy failing to solve.
This time around—from 2010 to 2011—the ratio is a little less dramatic. Of the 270 White House staffers who have been there for more than a year, 146—or 54%—received raises. The average salary increase was 8%. If you look at only staffers who got raises, the average increase was twice that.
That’s a much bigger raise than the average white-collar worker got. According to a survey conducted last year by the human resources consulting firm Mercer, most firms were projecting a 3% increase in base pay for executives. White House workers did nearly three times as well. Overall, it should be noted, the White House’s salary budget contracted slightly, from $38.8 million to $37.1 million, largely because the number of staffers fell. The average salary also dropped from $82,721, or 65% above the median household income, to $81,765—or 65% above the median household income.
But high turnover left plenty of room for White House staffers climb up the ladder and snag huge pay boosts. One of Obama’s first acts as president was to freeze the salaries of all White House officials earning more than $100,000 because “during this period of economic emergency, families are tightening their belts, and so should Washington.” Two years later, he extended that policy to all federal workers, using the same logic: “Small businesses and families are tightening their belts. Their government should too.”
But the across-the-board freeze didn’t take effect until January 1, 2011, so the most recent report (which goes back to July 2010) features some eye-opening raises, like special assistant to the president for economic policy Matthew Vogel’s $59,000, 82% raise to an annual salary of $130,500, or director of African American media Kevin Lewis’ $36,000, 86% pay hike.
Both of those were accompanied by title changes indicating that the bigger paychecks came along with new duties. But almost half of the raises doled out by the White House in the last year—59, or 40% of all raises—weren’t accompanied by new job descriptions. One of them—special assistant and associate counsel to the president Michael Gottlieb’s 14% pay bump from $114,000 to $130,500—was a clear violation of Obama’s freeze on salaries over $100,000.