Why Everybody Envies the Government Office Drone

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Job security, good pay, crazy vacation days and other awesome benefits. Did I already mentioned job security?

Once upon a time, the grass certainly seemed greener in the private sector. Only the safest, more boring, least gambler-type personalities chose a government job over private sector gigs, which were considered to offer workers better pay, better opportunities, and, even in light of pensions or lack thereof, better lives. Well, doesn’t that seem like a short-sighted point of view now?

Lately, private sector workers—or former workers, since millions have lost their jobs—are likely to resent government workers as much as they do government officials.

The Washington Post takes a look at the private-public sector debate in post-recession times, with an interesting twist—from the perspective of couples in which one works for the government, the other gets a paycheck in the private sector. There is envy from both sides, but right about now, the complaints from the government folks seem pretty shabby. As in:

“All of my friends have resentment,” says Kyle Bowker, who works for the Department of Transportation and is dating a non-government employee. “But I’m not getting $10,000-a-year bonuses,” Bowker says. “My boss can’t decide to randomly take my whole office to the movies.” The envious simply don’t understand what’s actually entailed in his job.

Huh? A show of hands: How many private sector workers ever went to the movies on the boss’s dime—during work hours? Bueller?

As the WP writes, gov jobs are highly desirable right now for one big reason:

… during the dark days of the Great Recession, the sexiest fringe benefit to any job became security. Stodgy is hot. Civil servants = genius! Visits to federal jobs site USAJobs.gov were up 18 percent in 2009 from 2008, according to the Office of Personnel Management, and up 61 percent for those who came to the site more than once. In May 2009, a Gallup poll found that 40 percent of Americans would consider a federal career, compared with 24 percent in 2006.

Beyond the fact that government workers are reasonably assured they’ll have jobs—a huge perk that can’t be underestimated nowadays—the down side we’ve all heard about (a meager federal salary) isn’t quite the sacrifice it used to be:

In job-to-job comparisons of federal vs. non-government employment, some federal jobs — accountants, historians, information-systems managers — did have higher salaries, according to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but many had lower. A government lawyer, for example, makes an average of $124,000, and a private sector lawyer makes $131,000. An editor for the federal government earns an average of $42,000 vs. $51,000 in the private sector; economists earned $101,000 vs. $122,000.

I know a lot of people who over the last year would have happily taken a 20% pay cut rather than get the axe like they did. Anyway, who works harder, the private or public sector employee? Generally speaking, people work harder when they don’t have job security. Government workers, for the most part, have job security. You do the math.