Is a federal job still golden?

(Editor’s Note: This column originally appeared July 15, 2011. It has been modified slightly from its original form.)

Even before the recession hit, having a government job was, for many people, a good thing. Safe, solid, secure. And it was too.

Once the recession hit, having a federal government job was no longer just good. It was golden. While tens of thousands of private sector workers were being laid off, many more took pay cuts – ranging from 5 to 25 percent – and a number of companies stopped making matching payments (typically 3 to 4 percent) to their employee 401k plans.

Over the past several years state and local government employment – once the fastest growing segment of the economy – has also taken several major hits. There have been give-backs and layoffs. In fact unemployment among public service (nonfederal) employees has led the unhappy parade. While some sectors of the economy are making a slow comeback, state and local government jobs are not.


Feds were jolted when a White House-appointed panel recommended a 3-year federal pay freeze and equally shocked when the president recommended and Congress okayed the current 2-year freeze. And in the wake of the debt-ceiling deal,there is still more talk about the possibility of extending the freeze for another one, two or three years.

In addition there are proposals – some solid, some still floating in the political ether – that would permanently reduce take-home pay of workers and retirees. For example.

Plans and pledges to dramatically expand the role of government including “insourcing” tens of thousands of so-called inherently governmental jobs that were farmed out by both the Clinton and Bush administrations, have largely been put on hold.

Defense, the largest federal civilian employer, plans to limit its workforce at 2010 levels. Result, very little hiring for the foreseeable future. The U.S. Postal Service, second largest federal agency, is downsizing through controlled hiring and targeted buyouts.

So, assuming you love (or loved) your job, are you still having fun?

  • “…I am soooo sick of being a political football. When times were booming and federal pay was low, people patted us on the head, said we had good benefits, and went on their way. Now when times are tough we are suddenly the targets. I am assuming it will change again although I am not certain I will be in my job to enjoy it.” – Tina of the IRS
  • “…I work for the DoD as a civilian. We just had one of our new young employees turn in their notice and is going back to the private sector. DoD has 3 years invested in this employee, and they are just now becoming really productive. When asked why they are leaving, the response was, ‘I do not see a long term future working as a civilian.’ I have to say, I am beginning to feel the same way.” – B.T.
  • ” When things are going well we are ignored by politicians, by the general public and by the press and news media. However when the ‘going gets tough’ everybody picks up a stone and hurls it at federal employees. Many don’t realize that the dumb, unpopular programs like the real estate bubble that burst) are created by Congress. Yet we take the rap! Tain’t fair!” – Deep In The Heart of Texas

To reach me,


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