heading to the feds

Citizens of Canada
photo credit: ItzaFineDay

I’ve noticed an interesting trend recently. The trend isn’t based on a statistical study or anything other than anecdotal evidence, but I’ve noticed that more and more professionals are leaving the private sector and heading to governmental and other public jobs.  Why?  Quite simply put, the value of pensions and health care are starting to outweigh the cost of salary cuts.

I worry almost daily about the value of my 401k and my IRAs (and Bubelah’s). When we are older, these accounts will be the sole source of support for us, other than our children’s generosity.  Right now, those accounts don’t exactly look like a goldmine.  I am confident that my earning ability (and Bubelah’s, when she eventually returns to work) will be sufficient to support us, but at the same time I have no desire to work until I’m 70.  At a minimum, I want to be working solely for the joy of it by that point – I want my retirement savings to cover my living expenses, and my work to be solely for the sake of my own personal interest.

But given the current economic conditions, a lot of people are going to opt for the (currently) stable prospect of government employment. A pension, fully-paid health care and almost-guaranteed employment are tempting alternatives in the current maelstrom.  As people continually seek stability versus risk, government jobs are going to become more attractive.  I don’t think they provide the long-term growth potential than corporate (or especially entrepreneurial) positions do, but they don’t carry the risk of layoffs and the tedium of being judged on your merits, either.

My aspirations still point me to entrepreneurialism, but I understand the desire for safety in an uncertain world.
I simply find it amusing that once government and public sector jobs were looked down upon, but increasingly it appears that these jobs are becoming desirable.  Times they are a-changin’….

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21 Replies to “heading to the feds”

  1. There's nothing really new about this. My parents, after having worked in the private sector for years, as well as owning their own business for quite a while, in the ten years prior to retirement, both got jobs with the State. They were able to get good pensions and good medical benefits to supplement what they'd amassed in their private accounts, and have retired quite comfortably. I've planned on doing the same thing myself, when I get a bit closer to retirement age. I've worked in the private sector for 30-plus years and been through enough of its ups and downs to crave the security of the government work force.

  2. It's funny how the longer you work and the older you get the more you begin to value the whole package and not just salary. When I started working I only cared about 2 things: the salary and the annual bonus. Once I got married however I began to care more about health insurance, and after the fall in the stock market I am really starting to see the risk in counting on a 401(k) to be enough.
    I'm with you though on the entrepreneurial aspirations, it would be tough to work in a public sector job again.

  3. the freakonomics blog had a similar thought recently too – talking about a shift in our economy, how it shakes up the job market, etc. should be interesting to see how it all plays out.

  4. I have an economist brother who works for the govt. We all thought he was mad not to take the offers from the investment banks … back then.

    I would personally have a lot of trouble with the atmosphere I see in govt offices though – they seem to lack any flexibility or humour, and all that red tape …. The small firm I work for has doubled in size since I got here three yrs ago, and the commensurate changes are already starting to chafe. I think the stress of dealing with a by the book employee handbook would kill me quicker.

  5. Depends on what type of person you are. I am like you and enjoy the more entrepreneurial work life, but I'm also young and have minimum financial responsibilities. If I was older I may think differently. It's not too shocking because a lot of people enjoy government type work, especially today when they get off and most people are working.


  6. I'm a lot older than most of you, and I've always worked for a public entity (a state government as a teacher). I have fabulous health care and pay a minimal amount for it, I have a pension for life to look forward to, and I have paid-for life insurance. Do I make a huge salary? No, but it's not all that bad. More of you should consider public service!

  7. Hmmm. A recent article on CNNMoney claimed that government jobs weren't a good place to be right now, because falling tax revenue (income, real estate, sales taxes) was going to result in a substantial loss in government jobs. I don't think you're correct here, Steve.

  8. Curmudgeon: I live in the D.C. area, and all the news is that new government jobs are on the way. On a different note, my parents both lived through the depression, and they always told me that the people who kept jobs and did well (comparatively speaking) were the public school teachers. So, I'm a public school teacher, and while I'm not rich, I've had good benefits, steady employment with dependable cost of living raises, and a defined benefits retirement promise. I've never worried about money, which leaves me free to worry about lots of other things!!!

    1. @Ruth: This article specifically referred to state and local jobs, but the logic was hard to refute (wish I could find the link, but searching CNNMoney is an exercise in futility). And it included teachers, primarily because of the loss of real estate tax revenue and state education funds. Perhaps in the past government jobs were a good refuge, but I'm not so sure anymore. Granted, as Steve points out, the pensions and retiree health benefits can't be beat (as long as they can be paid for, which I hear is a big issue in some jurisdictions).

    2. @Curmudgeon: I guess the question would be whether the state and local jobs are going to be disappearing at a slower rate than private sector jobs, which certainly seems possible. In any case, it's really more anecdotal and mainly just interesting to hear people who were go-go-go about capitalism and the private sector thinking about jumping to public sector jobs, because it's not something you used to hear on Wall Street.

  9. I work as a civil engineer with the government my entire working career. Compared to a lot of friends, I started out making $10k-$15k less than them. But with incremental pay raises and promotions, we are making the same amount now 5 years later. My husband is the entrepreneur in my relationship and we need the stability with health insurance and steady paychecks that my job provide. But you need a lot of patience working for the government.

    A few of our local government entities are already planning 1 day a month furloughs for 2009. Which is a 5% pay reduction. Though the government entity I work for also have budget problems, I am okay with a furlough as long as we do not have any laid offs. That is the great thing about living on only 40% of your income. We can go to bed at night no matter how bad things get.

  10. Diversify! We always hear that you should not put all eggs in one basket, the same goes for jobs. My solution to the problem: one spouse works for the government and one is an enterpreneur, or works for private companies.

  11. I think this era of “everything is headed toward government” is the wrong direction… but I do see it happening. Every time something goes wrong, the people cry out to the politicians to fix all the problems… Then they get to vote themselves raises and increased benefits – it's no wonder government jobs are so sought after… They'll just raise the taxes if they need more money… they can just tell the people they'll tax those big bad rich people…

    What made this country great was the people and their “can-do” attitude. Too bad it's being replaced with the “government, please-do save us, we need help” attitude.

    1. @Nabloid: I agree. I should be clear that I don't think that this move towards a nanny state is a positive development at all. The US system has always depended on a vital and growing private sector supported by the public sector – not the other way around, as is happening today.

    1. @ERE: I have no idea what happened to the left margin – is anyone having trouble with the layout? I tweaked the column widths but not the total width of the layout, so I didn't think it would affect anything.

      The US is turning into France if you of course mean France without universal health care and social benefits… we are getting the ugly parts without the good parts.

    2. Landing a cushy government job has always been the aspiration of many upper class kids, it is just that now people are waking up to it. You get money, power, and fame all at once with minimal risk. Why do you think rich families children and rich people go run for offices after they've made their money?

      Did you know that a prison nurse or fireman in California can make $200k/year? Cops can retire with $100k/year pension plans when they are 50?

  12. Almost all my close college friends joined the Government after graduating. They get get holiday plans, education plans, cheap housing and car loans and cheap health facilities. And of course almost iron cald security.

    The lower pay they start of with is nothing compared to the piles of advantages they get.

    And if people are rushing for Government jobs now, its not surprising. After all the private sector is not exactly booming.

  13. Almost all my close college friends joined the Government after graduating. They get get holiday plans, education plans, cheap housing and car loans and cheap health facilities. And of course almost iron cald security.

    The lower pay they start of with is nothing compared to the piles of advantages they get.

    And if people are rushing for Government jobs now, its not surprising. After all the private sector is not exactly booming.

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