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The pressure on wages has fueled public resentment and fear. The brunt often has been borne by government workers, who represent about the only segment of the labor force anymore who receive regular pay raises and cost-of-living adjustments, usually negotiated as part of union contracts.

“What have they done to deserve it?” Scott M. Manson, a D.C. contractor and businessman, asked upon hearing news of President Obama’s proposed 0.5 percent increase in pay for federal workers this year after two years of salary freezes. The proposed pay raise prompted a frenzy of opposition, as have similar wage proposals at the state and local levels.

“Most workers in the private sector do not get cost-of-living increases,” Mr. Manson said. “They only get increases based on productivity and skills. I would love to see that implemented in the government sector.”

David Motter, an Army veteran in Pennsylvania, endorsed a pay raise for nonunionized state employees this year, but noted that they had to wait a long time for the increase.

“I think going four to five years without a raise qualifies as sharing the pain and then some,” he said.