There are two major employment sectors in the U.S.: public and private. As of 2014, public sector or government jobs accounted for 16 percent of total U.S. employment. Government jobs themselves are found at the federal, state and local or municipal levels, though their numbers pale in comparison to private sector jobs. Government employment is known for its job security and good benefits, with private sector jobs somewhat lagging in terms of pay, benefits and job protections.
Government versus Private Sector Pay
Depending on the level in which one works, meaning federal, state or local, pay for government jobs can be relatively good. The Washington Post, for example, found that 2012 median salary for a federal employee was $74,714 while the Cato Institute says the average 2012 wage for a federal worker was $81,704. By comparison, Cato found that private sector jobs pay an average salary of $54,995. Government workers at the state and local levels also earn similarly attractive pay in many instances.
Government versus Private Sector Benefits
The Cato Institute notes that government jobs offer superior benefits when matched up against their private sector counterparts. Federal workers, for instance, receive pension plans, health insurance, retirement health benefits and retirement savings plans with matching government payments. Government employees at all levels also tend to earn generous holiday and vacation schedules, disability benefits, incentive payments and other perks. Overall, federal employees' average benefits amount to $33,271 versus average benefits of $10,921 paid in private sector jobs.
Employee Job Protections
Some government workers as well as private sector workers are covered by a collective bargaining agreement, or union contract. Collective bargaining agreements feature a measure of job protection, especially against arbitrary termination or lay-off decisions. Union membership as a percentage of total workforce is also higher in the public versus private sector, which has seen union rolls steadily decline to only 6.7 percent. Government jobs also benefit from traditionally strong civil service protections regardless of any collective bargaining agreement.
Making a Decision
If you're a high school graduate or lower and meet a government job's employment requirements, consider applying for the job offered. Those with high school diplomas or less earn 21 percent more in federal government jobs than similar private-sector workers. Overall, government workers were paid 20 percent more in 2012 than private-sector workers in similar fields. If you have a doctoral or professional level degree, however, you'll earn 23 percent more in the private sector than you would working for the government.
- Congressional Research Service: Selected Characteristics of Private and Public Sector Workers
- The Washington Post: Despite Salary Rate Freeze, Average Federal Salary Rises
- Cato Institute: Overpaid Federal Workers
- Congressional Budget Office: Comparing the Compensation of Federal and Private-Sector Employees
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Union Members -- 2013
- Photo Credit Vladone/iStock/Getty Images
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