Public Sector Jobs: Benefits Better Than at Most Companies
Pay generally lags, but not always; one government job per couple?
If you’ve got a serious entrepreneurial bent, or are eager to work your way up the corporate ladder, there’s definitely the potential to earn a much higher salary in the private sector than the public.
Yet cashing in the next IPO unicorn is a long shot. If you’ve hitched your wagon to a publicly traded company, job security can fall victim to management higher-ups chasing stock-option riches and trying to please Wall Street with quarterly earnings. And unless you work for a large company — say, 500 or more employees — you may not get valuable benefits such as medical insurance and a retirement plan.
An exhaustive survey by the U.S. Department of Labor reported that last March about one-third of private sector workers didn’t have medical benefits through their job, and one-third didn’t have a workplace retirement plan.
Landing both medical and retirement benefits is even harder to come by. Only six in 10 private sector workers in March 2020 had these two pillars of household financial security provided through their job.
Newly coupled and thinking through your careers and possibly children? Having one public sector job can be a fabulous anchor or security and provide relatively lush benefits, with the private sector job perhaps leading in income.
Given companies aren’t done yet with cutting benefits, a public sector career is worth considering. In the same survey, nearly nine in 10 state and local government workers had access to both medical and retirement benefits. Just 1% of elementary, secondary and special education teachers did not have access to both benefits.
About 30% of private sector total compensation comes in the form of non-salary benefits. For state and local workers, 38% of total compensation in November 2020 came from benefits, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
If you’re single, you might even be able to land a government job that doesn’t require you to contribute to your health insurance premium. About one in four state and local workers has self-only medical insurance that doesn’t require they pay a portion of the monthly premium. In the private sector, 12% of workers with single coverage are not required to contribute to their premium. (For family coverage, the vast majority of public and private workers are required to chip in to pay for a portion of their monthly premium.)
Interested in help paying for childcare? Look into a state job. Nearly one in three state employees is eligible for some financial assistance, compared to 9% of local public employees and 11% of private sector workers.
More than 90% of public administration state and local workers have paid vacation time, and the median paid time off after one year of service is 12 days. That compares to nearly eight of 10 private sector workers (10 days median). But in the private sector, paid vacation tilts toward the big shots. Only half of private sector workers in the lowest wage quartile have paid vacation, compared to more than 90% of workers in the highest wage quartile.
Depending on what type of private career you might have in mind, opting to work in the public sector can require weighing a potentially significant trade-off in base salary. There is no universal right or wrong way to go. Anyone who suggests so, is just projecting their own biases. This is a highly personal decision. What might work best for you? For your family?
If the notion of a public sector career appeals, you can refine searches at general job board sites such as ZipRecruiter and Indeed. There are also sites solely for public sector jobs. The USAJobs site is a clearinghouse for federal government jobs. Many states have similar job sites. Careers in Government has a search tool for all types of public sector jobs. If you have a specific town or region in mind, a web search of that name and the phrase “government jobs” will lead you to job listings at government websites. (Example: “Austin Texas government jobs”)
As you weigh potential public sector jobs, drill down on the full scope of the benefits package. Salary is obviously important, but as far too many private sector workers come to learn, a lack of core security benefits can’t necessarily be papered over by a higher base salary.