‘Big Resignation’ hits White House with staff turnover | Economic news
By ZEKE MILLER, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — New White House press secretary Karine Jean Pierre was saying her third on-camera goodbye to a staff member leaving in less than 24 hours when she joked to reporters, “I promise we we’ll have a press shop.” She added, “Not everyone leaves.”
It’s a dynamic playing out across the White House complex this month – and further proof that even the White House isn’t immune to what’s been called “the great resignation.” as employers struggle to fill vacancies and workers move into new jobs at record rates.
The administration is going through an unusually high period of staff turnover as President Joe Biden approaches 18 months in office. Long working hours, low morale and relatively low salaries weigh on both the senior ranks and the more numerous junior aides who keep the White House running.
It’s not unusual for personnel to change at this stage of a presidency, but the speed of change has sometimes been brutal: two-thirds of the White House press shop, much of the In the COVID-19 response, two of the deputies on the president’s advice, even the staffer who manages the White House Twitter account all depart within weeks of each other.
Some of them are by design. By custom, White House staff have been told to leave in July or wait until after the November election, according to current and former officials.
Yet the turnover, especially in the senior ranks, pales in comparison to President Donald Trump’s turbulent first year, which hired and fired staff at a record pace. Additionally, Biden White House’s staffing was more stable than many predecessors in its early days, making recent and upcoming releases more visible.
The extent of Biden’s turnover will not be clear until the end of the month, when the White House is due to submit its annual salary report to Congress.
Biden aides insist the departures are not tied to the president’s low poll numbers, but instead reflect a natural transition for staffers – some of whom have also worked long hours on the campaign – seeking to improve their quality of life. Helpers stressed that replacements have been secured for most departing staff and that no critical roles are vacant.
“This is a normal time for this level of turnover in any administration,” White House spokeswoman Emilie Simons said. “Public service involves sacrifice, and staff often have young children or promising careers in the private sector that they have put on hold, or opportunities for advancement within government or through higher education. “
Many departing aides head to federal agencies, which have far deeper pockets than the president’s small executive office. They can often double their salary and significantly reduce their workload.
In many ways, the departures echo a broader trend in the economy — which the Biden White House has championed — where a historically tight labor market has given workers unnatural leverage to seek better-paying, more compatible jobs. with their post-pandemic lifestyle.
“We’ve seen these historic levels of quits,” said Nick Bunker, director of economic research at the Indeed Hiring Lab. “We’ve also seen very rapid job growth, so people are kind of taking advantage of the situation, getting new jobs, getting higher salaries. So I think that’s from a workers perspective, pretty much a positive story overall.
More than 4 million workers quit their jobs every month over the past year, according to Labor Department data, representing nearly 3% of all workers quitting their jobs every month, most for jobs. other work opportunities.
“It’s a labor market right now,” then-White House press secretary Jen Psaki told MSNBC last year months before she left for a job. “We know that. People are looking for more reliable benefits. They are looking for higher salaries.”
The White House has bristled at the term “great resignation” and tried to reframe it as what Bharat Ramamurti, the deputy director of the National Economic Council, calls the “great upgrade”.
Congress sets the budget for the president’s executive office, and that budget has remained largely stable even as costs have increased, including some due to the coronavirus response.
Biden also expanded the staff when he entered the White House, thanks in large part to the centralization of the federal response to COVID-19 and climate policy within the West Wing. The 2021 report listed an average salary of around $94,000. This is 40% more than the country’s median household income, but still less than what well-qualified personnel could earn in the private sector.
“White House salaries tend to be much lower than the salaries people had before they entered the White House,” said Kevin Hassett, former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers in the Trump administration. “It follows naturally from the fact that a president can choose people who are at the top of their profession. So when people go back to their outside profession, wages probably go up for almost everyone. »
Veterans of the old West Wings who serve or have contact with Biden administration officials say there is a noticeable lack of joy in the White House complex. The pandemic has diminished some of the perks of work that generally make work demands more bearable, they said.
“These aren’t perks in a superficial sense, but they are moments that strengthen your team, focus you on the mission, and recharge your batteries,” said Eric Schultz, deputy senior White House press secretary at the end of the Obama administration. . “Nobody goes to the White House to get to the coast, but the jobs are running out, so inspiration along the way can mean a lot.”
The pandemic has meant few bowling alley birthday parties in the bowels of Eisenhower’s executive office building and reduced the ability to show loved ones around the historic workplace. In December, the White House was unable to hold holiday parties for staff because of COVID-19, and travel is only returning to pre-pandemic norms. For Biden’s first year in office, most employees couldn’t even stand on the South Lawn aisle to see the president arrive or depart on Marine One.
COVID precautions around Biden himself, including testing for those who might encounter him daily, mean many staffers have little personal interaction with their boss. For some departing staff, a highlight of their time at the White House came when former President Barack Obama visited the White House and spoke with staff on the occasion of the anniversary of the Affordable Care Act. Aides said he spent nearly five hours in the building and made a point of mingling with staff — in many cases, spending more time with them than Biden was able to.
Biden, aides said, has revived a pre-pandemic tradition of hosting departure photos for staffers and their families leaving the administration.
Associated Press writer Josh Boak contributed to this report.
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