July 24, 2009
Ask what you can do for your country: Despite the recession, Uncle Sam is hiring
New York Times News Service
At a time when many companies are shedding jobs at an alarming rate to survive the recession, one employer is still hiring: the federal government.
While the number of job openings in the private sector has dropped 4.6 percent since December 2007, hiring across federal agencies during the same time period has increased 2 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In some ways, the economic decline has been a boon to the federal government. Agencies are seeing a dramatic increase in applicants, including some with blockbuster resumes who are willing to work for lower salaries. Many say they will trade a smaller paycheck in exchange for job security and good benefits, while others say they are answering President Obama’s call for public service.
Kate Bender left the corporate world behind in June to become an executive at the Federal Reserve Bank in Boston. Bender, who previously worked at Wachovia Bank and has two master’s degrees, is earning less in her new position (she won’t say how much), but is nonetheless enthusiastic about the career shift.
“I wanted to focus on something with more meaning,” Bender says. “And while the pay might not be the same, the benefits are much better.”
Michael Orenstein, a spokesman for the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, says job openings are only expected to grow as baby boomers in the workforce retire and federal stimulus dollars create new positions.
The number of positions advertised on USAJOBS, a clearinghouse of federal job openings, has jumped nearly 40 percent over the past two years to more than 33,000.
“The government has thousands and thousands of opportunities for qualified men and women,” Orenstein says. “We’re looking for new talent and energy and people who desire to be in public service versus kneeling at the altar of the bottom line.”
Local job links
State and local agencies list their current employment opportunities online.
For many, however, working for the government is a career change that comes out of economic necessity.
The federal government can expand even in a down economy because it has the authority to increase the national deficit, such as funding a $787 billion economic stimulus package intended to create jobs. That’s in contrast to state government, which is required to balance its budget, and must lay off workers as tax revenues fall.
Many of the newly unemployed say they are rushing to federal government jobs because of the security they offer. The positions are generally unaffected by stock market swings, and layoffs are relatively rare, says Paul Harrington, a labor economist at Northeastern University.
Working for Uncle Sam becomes “very attractive when other jobs dry up,” says Harrington.
Federal agencies have also stepped up recruiting on college campuses.
Angeles Garcia, who graduated from Wellesley College in Massachusetts this spring, landed a job as a language assistant in the U.S. Department of Justice’s civil rights division, a newly created position in Washington, D.C.
Garcia, 22, will defer her plans to attend the University of Houston law school for at least a year. She started her new job on July 1; the pay is $18.74 an hour, or about $39,000 a year. She says she finds the nation’s capital glamorous.
“I really just love everything about politics,” Garcia says.
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