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Region’s federal employees won’t easily get relief from high-cost NJ

Region’s federal employees won’t easily get relief from high-cost NJ

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Nearly all New Jersey residents can sympathize with the recent effort by federal workers in Atlantic, Burlington and Camden counties to shift to a better pay scale.

This is a very expensive state to live in, 10th in the nation in overall cost of living and about 20% more expensive than neighboring Pennsylvania and Delaware, according to World Population Review.

An average house in New Jersey costs more than a third of a million dollars and comes with the highest property taxes in the U.S. A one-bedroom apartment rents for $1,242. Such costs soak up its third-highest U.S. median household income of $79,363 per year and burden those making less.

The South Jersey federal workers last month asked the Federal Salary Council to recommend that they be considered part of the New York statistical area, which would put them on that area’s higher pay scale. Their effort drew bipartisan support from the region’s congressional representatives.

It drew sympathy and skepticism from the council’s chairman, Ronald Sanders, who said the request kind of looked like shopping for a better paying statistical area.

“It’s human nature if you can attach to a locality pay area that pays more,” Sanders said. He said the council would study the issue, but hadn’t been shown that switching the region’s employees to the New York area and pay scale was warranted.

The idea behind placing federal employees in statistical areas and setting pay scales according to those areas is that the cost of living varies widely across America. An employee in a higher cost area would need higher pay to enjoy the same quality of life that a lower paid employee has in a lower cost area.

It does, for example, cost significantly more to live in New York than in Philadelphia — a whopping 130% more to live in Manhattan, but even 67% more in Brooklyn and 36% more in Queens.

And living costs in South Jersey are lower than in North Jersey, fortunately since household incomes are much lower too.

The area federal employees argued that some agencies struggled to fill positions in South Jersey when better pay was available not far away. They also noted that the boundaries of the Philadelphia and New York statistical areas resulted in pay discrepancies not many miles apart.

But boundaries must be drawn somewhere or the federal system would need to switch to paying the top scale to everyone no matter what the local cost of living.

It seems unlikely that the Federal Salary Council will recommend to the Secretary of Labor and other federal officials that the employees should be moved to the better paying New York zone.

Even if they did, the change probably wouldn’t be approved. More pay for its federal workers would benefit South Jersey, but it doesn’t seem likely to come about this way.

Sanders suggested an opening for some possible relief. He said a number of particular pay grades and positions in South Jersey looked in need of adjustment. That, however, is a matter beyond the scope of the council, so the employees should look elsewhere in the federal bureaucracy for a remedy.

We hope the appropriate agency takes a look at it and eliminates any inequities.

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