You may have been surprised by this headline in USA Today the other day: “Postal salaries go up as workforce shrinks”. If you’re a postal employee your base pay may indeed have risen slightly, but whether your actual weekly income is up or down depends on where you work and what you do. But the USAT story implies that the total USPS payroll has risen while the number of employees has dropped. Has it?
No, it hasn’t.
Here are the lead paragraphs of the story:
ASBURY PARK, N.J. — The payroll for postmasters and other salaried employees of the U.S. Postal Service rose $113.2 million in the last year even as the struggling mail system trimmed its staff by 3,100 positions, a NJ Press Media examination of pay records found.
The base pay for 388,823 salaried employees was $22.5 billion as of January, up from $22.4 billion in April 2013. The number of full-time employees dropped by 3,175 during the same time, according to the review of postal service payrolls.
The first item that should make you wonder about the accuracy of the story is the idea that the USPS has 388,823 “salaried employees”. What the folks at NJ Press Media seem to be unaware of is the fact that the USPS considers full time employees as “salaried”, even though they are paid on an hourly basis. (Check your Form 50, or for that matter, the database used in the story– if you’re full time, your pay rate is given as an annual number, not hourly). In other words, the vast majority of those 388,823 “salaried” workers are actually clerks, letter carriers, etc., not postmasters or managers.
And doesn’t $22.5 billion sound a bit low for total USPS salaries and benefits? It should! The actual amount of salaries and benefits the USPS paid out last fiscal year was $46.7 billion- more than twice what our “investigative reporters” came up with!
How do I know that? I looked it up in the USPS Annual Report. You see, the amount the USPS pays its employees is no big secret requiring FOIA requests and massive databases. The $46.7 billion the USPS paid out in wages and fringe benefits was down from the prior year’s total of $47.7 billion.
The truth is that the USPS cut employee salaries and benefits by almost a billion dollars last year.
So why are the numbers so far off? Because the newspaper relied on a “snapshot” taken at one point in the year, involving only full time career employees, and ignoring things like overtime and fringe benefits. The newspaper basically assumed that everyone on the payroll as of the date of the report would work exactly 40 hours a week for 52 weeks, with no change in the rate of pay, no retirements, no new hires, no unpaid leave, health insurance premiums, social security payments, etc. (And of course, that they had done the same thing the year before). I hope that’s not how USA Today calculates its own budget!
So the statement made about “base pay” in the story’s second paragraph is factually correct, but, on its own, meaningless. The statement in the lead paragraph, that “payroll” costs went up, is totally false. Oh- and by the way- the total compensation figures in the annual report include the overtime and “bonus” payments the newspaper was unable to acquire from the USPS.
(I should add that the database provided by the Asbury Park Press is an excellent resource- I use it frequently- but the author of the article that appeared in USA Today obviously didn’t know what the salary information actually meant, or how to analyze it.)
USA Today: Postal salaries go up as workforce shrinks.