Due to the gloomy slump the economy is in and the way public unions have been taking the spotlight in a not so positive way, students of our generation tend to look to the public sector with an evil eye. Everyone wants a six-figure salary post-graduation, working for a private company that promises all sorts of benefit packages, which a comparable job in the public sector couldn’t even begin to compete with. This desire is understandable given the current state of the economy and the rising cost of tuition.
However, recent graduates are taking public sector jobs – statistics actually show an increase over the last three years in the number of grads moving to the public sector. And they’re doing so begrudgingly or with disregard for what it means to explore public service; they’re just relieved to have found something.
If you had asked me at this time last year, just after the culmination of the Wisconsin collective bargaining protests, I probably would have been right alongside the majority of students in vying for employment with the big name companies. Don’t get me wrong – I support the public workers in Wisconsin who fought for their collective bargaining rights and I respect what they did. But the rhetoric surrounding the public sector was growing more and more contentious while University of Wisconsin students were set to see a 5.5 percent tuition spike for the fifth consecutive year.
These arguments seem trivial to me now, after I spent the past summer taking advantage of a truly once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to intern at The White House.
During the application process, I explained that my contribution to public service encircles my commitment to journalism and The Badger Herald – I view journalism as an essential public service, as it holds officials accountable and keeps the public informed.
While I still see journalism as a remarkably important public service, interning this summer introduced me to the true value of working in the public sector even, and especially during, trying times. Today’s generation is skirting further and further away from the prospect of accepting “one of those jobs” – the public sector job market has become a fallback option. We need to reevaluate this stigma. Now is the time to join the public sector and take an active role in public service.
The Chicago Teachers Union strike raises, once again, the question, “what do those teachers possibly have to complain about”? But students need to recognize the large scope of the public sector. Regardless of your take on the CTU strike, recognize that public employees span from public school teachers to government budget analysts, political and nonpolitical appointees in federal and local governments, employees at nonprofits and the list goes on and on.
Joining the public sector should be seen as a duty, but not a burdensome one. If you have a problem with the people making decisions, join them – don’t run as far in the other direction as possible. Public service is rewarding in that you’re not working for the value of the dollar, but rather the value of making a difference.
Your potential to have a positive impact on the lives of millions of other people is incredible; the opportunity to change the world in ways you haven’t yet even imagined is made possible by the public sector. Public service brings the best and brightest minds together to make a difference that impacts people outside of a particular market, and in a way, significantly alters their lives. This is critical.
So, as the “find a job by Thanksgiving” crisis begins, consider the impact you could have on society by tossing your name in the hat for jobs in public service. Do so with your fingers, toes and pinkies crossed hoping your name will be the chosen one. Make a commitment to public service, live out a term in the public sector and see the value of your work during your time there.
Pamela Selman (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a junior majoring in political science and journalism.