At a time when the official unemployment rate is nearing double digits, and 6.35 million people are receiving unemployment benefits, the U.S. government is on a hiring binge.
Executive branch employment — 1.98 million in 2009, excluding the Postal Service and the Defense Department — is set to increase by 15.6 percent for the 2010 fiscal year. Most of that is thanks to the Census Bureau hiring 102,000 temporary workers, but not counting them still yields a net increase of 2 percent in one year.
There's little belt-tightening in evidence in Washington, D.C.: Counting benefits, the average pay per federal worker will leap from $72,800 in 2008 to $75,419 next year.
Meanwhile, according to Forbes' layoff tracker, there have been 558,087 layoffs since November 2008 at large public companies; even local school districts aren't immune. That's just a sliver of the total unemployed, which government data estimate to be 8.6 percent of the workforce, or an alternate method of reckoning that counts discouraged workers puts at 20 percent.
Some of the Feds' hiring increases have been stunning. If you look at the four-year period from 2006 to 2010, the number of Homeland Security employees has grown by 22 percent, the Justice Department has increased by 15 percent, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission can claim 25 percent more employees. (These figures assume that Congress adopts Mr. Obama's 2010 budget without significant changes.)
A 39-page "dimensions" document accompanying the White House's 1,380-page appendix offers justifications for each new hire. Homeland Security says its new employees will "increase border security." The Agency for International Development wants to improve "the management and stewardship of foreign assistance programs." The Smithsonian Institution wants "additional security guards." And so on.
The final evidence that it's a good time to have a .gov e-mail address? Civilian government employees are set to enjoy a 2 percent raise. Not only are private sector workers are struggling to keep their jobs, but their earnings are stagnating and pay cuts are no longer uncommon.