American Money: The Surprising Outlook on Government Jobs

Why a job with Uncle Sam may be the right job for you.

Posted: 03/14/2013 11:00 AM EDT

With sequestration in effect, one analysis shows that up to 750,000 jobs may be in peril. However, in the long run, the prognosis for government jobs may not be as grim as it seems and may still be a valid option particularly for workers of color

State and local governments are now in their best financial shape since the recession, with payrolls in the fourth quarter 220,000 higher than in the same period in 2011. Though sequestration will still make an impact on payroll, particularly through furloughs (temporary unpaid leave), experts agree that these governments will also be in a better financial position to offset spending cuts. The federal government is the No. 1 employer in the United States and looks to remain as such for the foreseeable future. State governments employ about a million more people than the federal government and local governments employ even more than state governments with nearly 11 million fulltime employees. So though there is much in the headlines about government spending cuts, careers in government work continue to be an important player in the job landscape and one that should not be ignored.

One advantage of being a government employee is that the adverse effects of an economic downturn take longer to hit public sector positions. In other words, the private sector will always be subject to sharper ups and sharper downs compared with the public sector.

In the past, government jobs have been particularly beneficial for women and people of color because these positions hire them at more equitable rates. And though wage discrimination still exists across the board, research shows that women and people of color are subject to higher levels of discriminatory wage practices in the private sector.

Most government jobs also provide better retirement plans and health benefits. In general, government jobs are also more family friendly, allowing workers a chance to achieve excellent work-life balance — telecommuting, part-time work, alternative work schedule and job sharing are common in government agencies, and managers tend to be more generous when approving paid time off.

On the other hand, government jobs also come with downsides. Government positions generally have lower starting pay and slower salary growth. Though employees receive cost-of-living salary adjustments, they rarely keep pace with inflation, and only a select few top performers receive substantial merit-based raises. If you’re a rising star, it may be difficult to wait for your salary to catch up to your performance.

Another common point of frustration in the public sector is bloated government bureaucracy. Every decision is subject to what often feels like an inordinate amount of paperwork and a slow, formal approval process that may prevent workers from getting things done more quickly and efficiently. 

However, these formal processes may work to your advantage when it comes to job termination. Unlike most private sector employees who are hired “at-will,” many government employees are entitled to due process — which means the government is obligated to give advance notice of an employee’s firing along with a fair hearing during which the employee has a chance to contest the firing. 

Contrary to common belief, public sector jobs aren’t just for aspiring teachers or policemen. The government also employs geologists, IT workers, civil engineers and pharmacists. Explore opportunities at the federal, state and local level at usajobs.gov to see if a government job is right for you.

 

American Money is a weekly column written by Dedrick Asante-Muhammad, the senior director of the NAACP Economic Programs. To learn more about preventing foreclosure and personal finance, check out the NAACP Financial Freedom Center Facebook Page or on Twitter @naacpecon

 

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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