About a week ago, one of my fellow writers posted an excellent article detailing his day-to-day as a public sector worker, and the joys of suckling at the government teat. Of course, success brings out critics, and his column brought the trolls out in droves. Despite what many of the “internet tough guys” would have you believe, my colleague made an excellent case for working in the public sector. And I would know – I’ve worked in the public sector for three different summers with varying levels of responsibility, and I can firmly attest to the benefits of working for pretty much any level of government (assuming you don’t work at the DMV or some other low-level gig). But I’m not here to tell you why you should work for the government – my heart belongs to the private sector.
Before I drop the knowledge on you internet hooligans (is that what the kids are saying these days?), it’s important to make clear that what I am about to say comes with a caveat: not all private sector jobs are created equal. Most people wouldn’t argue that a job as a burger flipper or manicurist beats working a desk job in a state or federal agency. So not all private sector jobs are automatically better than government jobs, just like not all public sector work is automatically better than working for corporate America. But the private sector work has a much higher potential for the following benefits than do most government jobs. I guess the key here is that you can earn these comforts if you manage to find a decent gig – which, judging by the LinkedIn requests I’ve been getting from my former high school classmates, is easier said than done.
This is the low hanging fruit. While the biggest benefit under the “financial security” column in public sector work is the pension plan, the private sector, by virtue of this new thing called capitalism, allows for a significantly higher pay scale than you could attain while working for the government. Take a list of white collar professions, compare corresponding public and private sector counterparts, and you’ll see that the private sector tends to make a lot more money: accountants, doctors, lawyers, managers, financiers, etc. The list goes on. Sure, you end up working way more hours because your business is driven by profit, as opposed to, well, whatever incentive the government has to be efficient. But the increase in pay, at least in my not-so-humble opinion, is totally worth not being able to read all my usual sports blogs every morning. Again, keep in mind that I am talking about potential for this level of pay – if you graduated from college and couldn’t find any work except as a barista, don’t blame me, blame your gender studies degree.
As some of the commenters on the pro-public sector article noted, there are a lot of baby boomers taking up space in government jobs (until they retire) and significantly limiting upward mobility for millennials like us. The reason this problem exists is because of the incentives problem I referenced earlier. For the most part in the private sector, if you are not actively making money for your company, you shouldn’t expect to be there for very long. That’s the beauty of the private sector: if you aren’t moving forward, you’re moving backward. Now if only there was some way to make the government run on this incentive model…
Yes, government work has its perks. But so does the private sector: namely, when your employer pays for you to do fun stuff or eat expensive food. Theoretically, government workers shouldn’t be paying for steak dinners and expensive scotch with taxpayer funds, but in the private sector, this is a real possibility. While this occurrence runs into some complications in publicly owned companies – accountability to shareholders and fiduciary duties and all that – I for one have thoroughly enjoyed expensive meals and golf outings at the expense of my employer, and look forward to continuing this fine tradition in the future.
My other favorite perk is working in a nice office building. Call me shallow (wouldn’t be the first time), but I love entering a skyscraper from the ground floor, swiping through security, and riding the elevator up to an office with a view that most people only get to see on their computer desktops. While some government agencies work in nice office buildings, most don’t, and believe me it is one of my favorite parts of the job. Not all private sector jobs have this, including many very lucrative ones (doctor, engineer), but it is a damn fine way to start the morning.
One of the areas my work entails is corporate compliance, so I understand that work in most of the private sector, especially corporate America, entails nearly as much bureaucracy as work in the public sector. Having said that, there is still less red tape to jump through when working for the private sector, and this really allows you to focus on the substantive work for which you were hired. Not everyone may actually enjoy the work for which they were hired, but if you are lucky enough to work in a job where you like at least half of the work you do, this makes happy hour arrive that much quicker..
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