The UWIRE Forum

Troubling that youth shun private sector for government work
June 16, 2009, 7:14 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized
Michael Warren

Michael Warren

In this economy, where’s a 20-something with a fresh bachelor’s degree supposed to find work? The federal government, apparently.

According to Reuters, college graduates are flocking to Washington in search of government jobs. The plight of businesses across the country can be summed up in two words: nobody in the private sector is hiring. The nation’s capital is one of the few areas where jobs are growing, no doubt due in part to the economic stimulus signed by President Barack Obama in February. So with Wall Street in turmoil and the rest of the private sector feeling the blowback, a government job seems like the easiest path to a steady income right out of college.

Reuters also finds a political aspect to the employment march on Washington, quoting a recent graduate named Britini Wilcher, who landed a job at a government consulting firm.

“It’s becoming trendy to take your community into your hands and give back, which is a good thing,” Wilcher said. “People are empowered by the current political climate.”

Is it any surprise that we’re finding more young people shunning the private sector for the public sector?

Take a survey of the recent commencement addresses at colleges and universities across the country and it’s clear there is a trend. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged graduates at New York University to “be citizen-ambassadors… to solve our planet’s common problems.” At Washington University in St. Louis, Teach For America founder Wendy Kopp told seniors “not to wait to address the world’s biggest problems…(because) they need your attention.” First lady Michelle Obama said, “careers focused on lifting up our communities… are necessary” to graduates at the University of California-Merced.

But graduation certainly isn’t the first time young people hear about the virtues of serving their community to solve big problems. Degree programs at several universities (and even some high schools) have community service requirements. Many schools incorporate community service activities in their freshman orientation programs. Organizations like Alternative Spring Break promote service projects when classes aren’t in session, and operations like Teach For America are omnipresent on campus as they recruit the leaders of tomorrow to serve in poor school systems. “Save Darfur” T-shirts are as ubiquitous on campus as college paraphernalia. Sample seminars from first-year undergraduate programs include “Organizing and Communicating for Social Entrepreneurs” at UNC-Chapel Hill and “World Hunger and Extreme Poverty: How Can You Make a Difference?” at the University of Georgia. Contemporary university life has primed a generation for public sector careers.

Often, the forces of the market fail to penetrate the campus bubble, where concepts like faculty tenure and living wage for unskilled labor thrive. The way student organizations vie for activity funds resembles the government agency money grab every fiscal year more than any private sector system. Outside the engineering schools, who is carrying the torch for productive careers after college?

If Obama’s priority was to restore America’s economic prowess, this news about the influx of government workers from the nation’s universities might trouble him. After all, what sort of return on the investment of four years in college is a job in the public sector? The civil engineer at the Department of Transportation won’t be working on the construction project for the next major industrial plant. The business major holds a mid-level job at the Bureau of Economic Analysis instead of accruing enough capital and contacts to start his own small business. The computer analyst can’t crunch the numbers to save companies the big bucks when he’s stuck at IT for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

But the president most likely welcomes this development. After all, with Obama’s plans to expand government, a growing bureaucracy is exactly what’s in order. A legion of college graduates with service on the brain and no other options for jobs? What more could the bureaucrat-in-chief ask for?

As students of this generation, we’ve been trained to take the path of least resistance. We look for shortcuts in every academic concept we encounter. We seek out our professors for help at the first sign of trouble. “Is this for a grade?” may be the most common question a teacher receives. We abhor risk, seeks answers from others rather than from ourselves, and won’t do the work unless we really have to.

I guess government jobs seem fitting after all.


2 Comments so far
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This seems a little ridiculous. Are we sure that entry-level jobs are all that different in the public and private sectors? The specter of festering bureaucracies is compelling, but there seems to be an assumption here that a government job immediately transforms ambitious young go-getter into a red-tape machine.

A generic government job is inferior to a generic private job for the economy, but refusing to add much nuance to that assumption sounds a little choir-preachy. Speaking of which, is painting your generation as the laziest/shallowest ever intended to do anything but induce self-righteous nods from fellow travelers and piss off everyone else?

Broad brushstrokes feel good because they’re an easy way to make sense of the world, but they’re just too simple.

Comment by DT

More graduates are going to work for government. My point is that this isn’t good for the economy to have so many young people going into government rather than the private sector. Where’s the production?

As for how I painted my generation, I’m just pointing out observations that I think lots of my peers would agree with, and I wasn’t disparaging us, exactly. It’s how we’ve been raised, in public schools and the current culture. Less is expected of us, I think. We learn to ask for help rather than figure things out for ourselves. I think this has created a culture in our generation of taking the easy way out. It’s a criticism, but I never say that we are lazy or shallow, just more inclined to take the easier route.

Comment by Michael Warren

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