By - March 11, 2010

Degree of Thought

Dear Matty,
I am a collegiate athlete graduating in May. I will graduate in the top 15% of my class. I have not made up my mind whether to pursue a private or public sector job. Can you offer any insight on which way to go?

Sam at Stanford

Dear Sam,
Congratulations on graduating from Stanford. This is nothing short of a great accomplishment. You did not mention your major so I will assume it is in Common Sense since you are visiting the Red State Report. To paraphrase a line from comedian Steven Wright, “I am a peripheral visionary–I can see into the future, but just off to the side.” As such, I can tell you the current climate doesn’t look too good for the private sector. The private sector needs some stability in economic policy in order to thrive. Washington has provided none.

The stimulus packages have not created very many jobs. It has driven us deeper in debt (about $44,000 for every man, women, or child) but at least it has saved over 13 million jobs (or so they tell me). I have always said you can not save an economy by building casinos and creating government jobs. Both entities take from the producers of society and provide very little in return.

That said, you need to check out this chart from the USA Today newspaper last week. It will show you the current pay averages from the public and private sector. Even I was amazed by the differences as average federal salaries exceed average private-sector pay in 83% of comparable occupations.

Here is what I know: 1) A private sector job demands results, not so with a government job. As philosopher Alfred E. Newman once said, “What, me worry?” When was the last time you heard of somebody losing a government job? 2) A private sector employee can be laid off and/or fired, not so with a government employee. You get a paid furlough and lots of union protection, if you know what I mean. 3) A private sector employee must convince his superiors that he is entitled to a salary increase, not so with a government employee–his salary increases are automatic and arrive nearly every year, compliments of a State/Federal Employee Union. And you thought Congress was the only ones who could vote themselves a pay increase! 4) Most private sector jobs are non-union, not so with government jobs. The largest labor unions are the government union. Nice entitlement program we have running. The political clout and bargaining power would make Bill Clinton blush.

Case in point, in New Jersey, Governor Christie, is fighting back on the state level by trying to change the out of control state pension plans. In New Jersey, the average employee pays about $125,000 into the plan over their career. That same employee may retire at age 49 with benefits paid out in the $3.3 million range. Here is another diddy Matty remembers reading a year ago, from a town out in your part of the country. Vallejo, California had to file bankruptcy to get out from under the outrageous benefits expected by public employees.

Sam, you strike me as a competitor and I believe no matter how hard or bleak the private sector may look right now, that is the best place to be. Bureaucrat life is boring, though full of holidays (we celebrate tree planting here in Nebraska). You would never realize your full potential as a public employee. You may not ever actually do anything.

Good luck on the job search and remember that you will never over-use your major in common sense.

Most sincerely,

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Comments (4)


  1. Scrip Lady in Nebraska says:

    Dear Matty,
    As a non-union employee of the State of Nebraska for the last 20 years, I am compelled to respond to your misguided generalizations about government employees.

    (1) Yes, we can lose our jobs. I am an “at will employee” who can be terminated simply because my boss doesn’t like the color of my hair. (2) Not ALL government employees get raises every year; although I would note that I saw my largest salary increases under Governor Kay Orr, who I believe shared your political philosophy. (3) And don’t get me started about the “wonderful insurance benefits” government employees get. For the last several years, the increase in health insurance premiums has FAR exceeded any raise I may have received.

    You’re a great guy Matty. Just beware of making generalizations before you have all the facts.

    Scrip Lady in Nebraska

  2. RB in Nebraska says:

    Maybe I’m mistaken, but most of my friends who work for the government say that the benefits are one of the main reasons they stay.

    It seems like Matty was just trying to make a funny point about government employees are not able to get terminated. Having said that, I have had a couple of very good friends who have worked in management for the state and it sounds like that, short of drastic budget cuts, it is very hard for anybody to actually lose a job. Maybe I’m wrong.

    My perception is that all levels of government just seem to keep growing. This seems to occur even when they are bleeding money out. Some growth is understandable, but government growth seems to be coming a larger and larger part of our GDP.

    Health Insurance Premiums are going up everywhere and the reasons for that are for a different day. What my friends say and from what they’ve described is, that compared to most private sector jobs, the quality of the insurance is very good.

    That’s all for today

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