FBI agent Bob Hoelscher was priced out of housing anywhere near his new job in San Francisco. After months of searching, he found a $250,000 house in Fairfield – 58 miles away. His commute takes 75 minutes each way, if the weather is good, the Los Angeles Times reports.
While the FBI plays a lead role in the war on terrorism, many agents are waging a private battle against financial hardship. An outdated pay structure has left many agents struggling to make ends meet, especially in high-cost cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York. Some agents endure lengthy commutes. Others have gone deep into debt. A few have gone on food stamps or moved into government housing.
Scores of younger agents are resigning for better-paying jobs in the private sector. Experienced agents want out of big cities. Top-level vacancies in specialties ranging from white-collar crime to counterterrorism go begging for applicants. The financial squeeze is greatest in the very urban centers where the need for top investigative talent is most urgent.
A House subcommittee will hold a hearing today on legislation to boost salaries for thousands of federal law enforcement personnel working in the nation’s most expensive cities. In San Francisco, which has the nation’s highest housing prices, FBI officials estimate that 9% of the agents resign each year, compared with 2% for the bureau as a whole.
In places like Los Angeles, a new agent earns a base salary of $39,204. A “locality” adjustment for living costs, plus 10 hours per week of mandatory overtime, bring the pay to $56,843. With Los Angeles County’s median home price at $313,000, many new agents are priced out of the market and must spend three hours a day commuting.