The Washington Post reckons that Barack Obama has saved the nation about $443,000 by freezing the salaries of any staffers on six-figure salaries. But the real number is surely much less than that — and could be as low as $17,000.
The reason is the unknowable counterfactual: how much more would staffers be making if it weren’t for the pay freeze? The Post bases its estimate on the average cost-of-living and merit increase over the past five years, which works out at 2.8%. But the cost of living didn’t go up last year: CPI was only 0.1%. And you can’t really get a merit increase on a brand-new job.
If salaries rose only in line with inflation, then, the 120 staffers making more than $100,000 a year — who between them make about $17 million annually — would have seen their pay rise only about $17,000 between them. Which is a savings, but not much of one.
On the other hand, if you gave them all a 2.8% raise, by my calculations that would come to $478,000. So I’m not sure where the $443,000 number comes from.