On Dec. 23, President Obama officially issued the order raising pay for the 2.1 million civilian federal work force and active military. While civilians have missed out on cost-of-living increases in the past few years, pay hikes tied to promotions and bonuses have been allowed.
The raise won't show up for many employees until around Jan. 17, the pay day for the first two weeks of 2014, according to the General Services Administration.
Also, as colleagues retire, some workers who remain on the job face larger work loads, because dozens of federal agencies have stopped hiring due to budget cuts.
The hits are taking a toll. This month, a survey of federal employees reported the lowest level of job satisfaction in 10 years, according to the Partnership for Public Service and Deloitte Consulting.
"Psychologically, it's very valuable for the federal work force to see that there's some recognition for the work that they do," said John Palguta, vice president for policy at the Partnership for Public Service, a nonprofit that advocates for efficient government.
House Republicans have argued over the years that federal workers contribute to large deficits. Republicans suggest that federal worker pay and benefits are more generous than the private sector.
U.S. sees jobs boost in October
A 2012 report from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found that federal employees get 46% better benefits on average compared to the private sector.
Federal employees, on average, make $77,414 a year in wages, about 44% more than private-sector employees' $53,463, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The difference in pay is often due to higher education levels in the federal workforce, more white-collar jobs and the concentration of jobs located in Washington, a more expensive place to live than other parts of the nation.
Speaking among Democrats, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland said the raise is "well-deserved and long overdue."