From accountants to zoologists, bakers to youth counselors, clerks to
X-ray technicians, about 1 worker in 6 finds employment in government.
The Federal Government is the Nation’s largest single employer.
Even more people work for the various State governments. And local
governments employ almost three times as many people as State
governments do. Altogether, government provides about 16 million jobs.
These jobs demand an extraoridnary range of skills. The State of
Alabama alone employs people in 1,200 different classifications. Some
are as routine as operating a telephone switchboard; others are as
technical as maintaining a microwave relay system. Governments are
pretty much the only employers for some occupations, such as magistrate,
tax assessor, and game warden. For many others, such as teacher, police
officer, firefighter, and social workers, they are the major employers
by far. And if all the clerical workers they employ held hands to form
a line, it would stretch from the Rockies to the Appalachians.
You wouldn’t expect these thousands of employers all to hire
workers in the same occupations, pay them the same wages, and follow the
same recruiting practices. They don’t. Nevertheless, government
employment does have some shared characteristics. The first part of
this article points them out. It describes the different levels of
government, their total employment, past and possible future trends in
employment, average earnings and benefits for government employees,
advantages and disadvantages of working for the government, various
hiring procedures followed, and places where you are most likely to find
out about government jobs. The second part of the article deals with
major occupations, grouped by function.
Levels of Government
When thinking of government, most of us probably take a hint from
the nightly news and picture the White House or the Capitol Building in
Washington. An image of a little red schoolhouse would be more
appropriate. Education accounts for far more jobs than any other
government function, and it is largely the business of local government,
more than half of whose employees work in elementary and secondary
education. Other major functions of local governments are providing
police and fire protection, hospitals, streets and highways, water, and
transit service. Employees of State governments are not quite as
concentrated by field as local government workers are, although 30
percent are engaged in higher education. Functions employing at least 5
percent of all State workers are hospitals, highways, corrections, and
public welfare. The Federal Government’s major function–in terms
of employees–is defense; the next largest group of employees work for
the Postal Service.
These different levels of government complicate the employment
picture. First, the Federal Government has one system–the Civil
Service system–for most employees and additional systems for the Postal
Service, the Foreign Service, the intelligence agencies, the Congress,
and the courts. Second, each State has one or more systems. Third,
3,000 county, 19,000 municipal, and 16,000 town governments each follow
their own employment procedures. Fourth, 14,000 special
districts–which primarily provide hospital care and transit
services–do their own hiring. And finally, 15,000 school
districts–with more or less direction from the State–pretty much set
the employment practices for the elementary and secondary schools.
But despite the existence of these many different systems, all is
not chaos. Many governments follow the same kinds of hiring procedures;
and earnings, benefits, and even the disadvantages of government
employment are often roughly comparable. Having 60,000 potential
employers also gives you that many more places to find a job.
The Size of the Government
By any measure, government employment is very large. About 2.9
million civilians worked for the Federal Government in 1983; 3.8
million, for the States; and 9.3 million, for local governments.
Naturally, the size of the State and local government labor force varies
with the population, ranging from almost 1-1/2 million (plus 300,000
Federal workers) in California to less than 30,000 (and about 4,000
Federal workers) in Vermont.
Besides population, many other factors determine the size of the
government labor force in a State. Some variation is due to different
needs. Rural areas don’t need the same services that large cities
do; and if the private sector traditionally provides hospitals or
utilities, the State or local government does not have to. But much of
the variation is also due to the willingness and ability of the citizens
to pay for government services.
One way to look at government employment besides the total number
of people working is the number of State and local workers per 10,000
citizens. The average is 465, but even here there is much variation,
ranging from 814 in Alaska to 382 in Pennsylvania. Other States with
high employment-to-population ratios are Wyoming, Nebraska, New Mexico,
and New York; other States with low ratios include Kentucky, New
Hampshire, Ohio, and Illinois.
The employment-population ratio also varies from function to
function within a States. For example, the ratio for Georgia hospitals
is very high, but it’s a little below average in social insurance
administration. Nevada has a low ratio in public welfare and a very
high one in social insurance administration.
Federal employment also varies considerably from State to State.
About 15 percent of the white-collar jobs are in the Washington area,
giving Washington D.C., Maryland, and Virginia the highest Federal
employment levels. The rest of the positions are spread throughout the
country. At least a few postal workers, employees of the Departments of
Agriculture and the Interior, or workers for the Weather Service and
Federal Aviation Administration are found in almost every county.
Military bases, veterans’ hospitals, regional headquarters, and
mail distribution centers result in larger concentrations of Federal
jobs. States with a relatively high proportion of Federal jobs compared
to their population are Alaska, Hawaii, New Mexico, and Utah. The
lowest ratios are found in Connecticut, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan,
Minnesota, North Carolina, and Wisconsin.
Government employment experienced rapid and sustained growth from
World War II to 1980. The growth was not at the Federal level, however,
which has never regained its wartime peak, but at the State and local
levels, in which employment rose an average of 3 percent a year from
1945 to 1980. At the Federal level during the 1970’s, defense and
postal employment declined while almost all other departments grew; more
recently, defense employment has risen. State and local governments in
the 1970’s cut back on highway and sanitation employment while
increasing employment in most other areas. For States, much of the
increase was for higher education, hospitals, public welfare, general
control, health, and corrections. Local governments added workers in
elementary and secondary education, higher education, hospitals, police
protection, general control, public transit, health, and public welfare.
Generally, the State government grew faster than local governments.
In 1980, government employment reached a watershed. The next year,
the number of State and local government workers fell for the first time
since World War II. Some decline occurred in almost every function
except police protection. Education–which represents so much of the
total–had the greatest loss in numbers; highway departments had the
sharpest percentage drop. The total decline was 245,000, almost all of
which was at the State and local levels, which fell 1.8 percent.
Despite the current decline–which is due somewhat to the
resistance of taxpayers to increased government expenditures and even
more to the shrinkage of the school-age population–the upward trend is
likely to resume, though State and local employment is not projected to
grow as fast as the rest of the economy in the near future.
Nevertheless, these employers will be hiring huge numbers of
workers to replace those currently employed who go to work for private
firms, retire, or leave the labor force for some other reason. A
turnover rate of about 10 percent is fairly common; given the size of
the government labor force, that means that more than 1-1;/2 million
jobs would open up in government service each year.
When you look for a job, of course, these national trends will be
less important than local conditions and the supply of workers in
particular occupations. For example, even though elementary school enrollments will generally rise, they will continue to decline in some
places. On the other hand, even a local government that is cutting back
might add workers in some fields, such as the computer occupations.
Earnings depend on the salary schedule of a particular government
and, even more, on occupation. Table 1 shows how much variation was
found from one large city government to another for the same occupation
in 1980, the most recent data available. Variation is also found within
a single government. For
example, electricians usually had a higher hourly wage than
carpenters, but in Philadelphia they did not. In general, States pay
better than cities, and the Federal Government pay better than the
Most of us, of course, are not ready to move to another city just
for a few more dollars. So instead of comparing governments with each
other, it might be more meaningful to compare them with private sector
employers in the same area. Again, as table 2 shows, there is wide
variation by occupation. Baltimore, for example, paid typists the
average for all clerical workers in private industry in the same area
but paid electricians less. Houston, on the other hand, paid typists a
little less than average and electricians a little more. The situation
may now be reversed–comparable information has not been published for
the period after September 1980.
Many factors can contribute to this variation. For example,
sometimes an “annual” salary is paid in less than 12 months,
seemingly raising the monthly wage. In other cases, the salary does not
include housing, meals, or other compensation that may be provided;
hospital employees are most likely to receive such compensation. The
degree to which an occupation is unionized also affects salaries. In
1980, more than 40 percent of all State employees were unionized.
Unions were most common for highway workers, police departments, and
The two tables show that generalizing about the pay practices of
thousands of different employers is risky; but, after studying
government versus private sector wages, Shawna Grosskopf concludes,
“Roughly speaking, high-skill occupations are relatively underpaid in the public sector, and low-skill occupations are overpaid relative to
the private sector.” However, all these comparisons are far from
perfect because fringe benefits can make the total compensation of one
job higher than another even if the take-home pay is lower. In other
words, a government job with relatively lower pay might still be more
attractive than another job for other reasons.
Despite the great numbers of employers and the many different
occupations involved, many government employees enjoy comparable fringe
benefits. The most common are paid vacation and sick leave, paid
holidays, medical insurance, retirement plans, and tuition assistance.
Comprehensive data are not available for local governments. However,
the practices of the States and the Federal Government show the usual
benefits offered. New workers typically get 2 weeks of vacation and 12
to 15 days of sick leave; the Federal Government and almost all the
States give additional vacation time to workers with more service; 26
days a year is the maximum for Federal workers. The Federal Government
grants 9 paid holidays a year; most States grant more, and at least one
gives 13. The entire cost of medical insurance is paid in 14 States; 21
pay for life insurance. The rest of the States and the Federal
Government pay at least part of the cost of medical insurance and offer
some kind of life insurance plan. Government pensions are often
considered generous. Florida, Mississippi, and Oklahoma pay the entire
cost of the pension. In the rest of the States and in the Federal
service the employer contributes to a pension fund and the worker pays a
fixed proportion of his or her earnings. Almost all the States and the
Federal Government provide tuition assistance for college. The amount
provided and the kinds of courses that may be taken vary widely.
Other frequently mentioned benefits of government jobs are job
security and advancement opportunities. Government employment is not
guaranteed in bad times, as the teachers in many a shrinking school
district can attest. Still, a government is less likely to be affected
by temporary economic setbacks than is a private company. This aspect
of government employment is especially beneficial in occupations that
are prone to high unemployment, such as the construction crafts.
As for advancement, government positions often have clearly defined
career ladders. Furthermore, in many government agencies, managerial
positions are usually held by people who once worked at lower levels of
the organization. For example, school administrators are often former
teachers in the system; police sergeants and officers almost always come
from the patrol ranks; and postal supervisors must be experienced
carriers or clerks.
But perhaps the major benefits of government employment are
intangible, most importantly the opportunity to serve the public good
and have a direct impact on other people. As a social worker, teacher,
police officer, or firefighter, you will be able to see how your work
benefits individuals and the community at large.
Just as government service offers some solid advantages, it has
some disadvantages. The degree to which they bother you is likely to
depend on your own personality. One frustration of government work for
some is the inability to measure achievement in terms of profit and
loss. The final goal of most private companies is to make money by
offering some good or service. The marketplace provides constant
feedback as to their success. Government programs, however, can rarely
demonstrate a clear-cut success, and even the most successful programs
will have critics. No matter how good the schools, no matter how safe
the community, no matter how well kept the roads, some citizens will
always be found to say that the service should be better or cheaper or
both. Politics also has a major effect on government workers, since
politicians control the budget and make the final decisions. This can
be a disadvantage to those who always want to have the last word on
their own work. Furthermore, the same organizational controls that
provide job security can protect the job of someone you feel you should
replace. And the explicit promotion procedures can result in
advancement that is sure but slow. Nor does the government offer the
extremely high salaries and bonuses that a few very successful workers
in the private sector make. Most of these drawbacks are not unique to
the government; they are shared by many large organizations. And
perhaps they all amount to saying nothing more than that people who
enjoy the risks and rewards of self-employment will find less
satisfaction working for the government. They are worth considering,
however, before you decide to build a government career.
Hiring and Evaluating Procedures
The thousands of different government employers in the country
naturally use various hiring procedures, but usually they issue an
announcement of some kind indicating that workers are sought in one
occupation or another. Three different kinds of announcements are
* Open announcement. This means that applications are always
accepted. Typically, this procedure is followed only for occupations
with steady turnover, especially in the clerical field.
* Announcement of an examination. This means that applications are
being accepted for evaluation or for a test; only after the evaluation
will people be considered for actual job openings as they arise.
* Position announcement. This means that applications are being
accepted for a job that is currently available. In many cases, the
people doing the hiring only consider applicants who have already been
evaluated as a result of an announcement of an examination.
Governments often–but not always–have a standard procedure to
evaluate job applicants. The procedure is often called an examination,
although no test might be given. The most frequently used evaluation
procedures are the following:
* Written tests. Often multiple choice, samples of the tests are
usually available from the government. Commercial publishers also cell
books of sample tests for many occupations.
* Performance tests. Applicants for clerical and craft jobs must
often show that they can operate the equipment or use the tools needed
on the job.
* Ratings of education, training, and experience. For many jobs,
especially at the professional entry level, candidates are judged on the
basis of the appropriateness of their education and experience to the
occupation. An announcement that a government is accepting applications
for such an evaluation should indicate the kind of education and
experience sought. If you fill out such an application, it is your
responsibility to make sure that your forms have all the needed
information, even to the point of using the very words of the job
description where appropriate. How highly you are rated depends
exclusively on whether the evaluator can find the required qualification
described on your application.
* Interviews. These are similar to the rating of education and
experience described above. Interviews are used for occupations in
which workers have frequent contact with the public, including police
officer, firefighter, and claims examiner.
* All of the above. For some jobs, police recruits and firefighter
recruits, for example, all these diffierent evaluation procedures are
used at different stages of the selection process.
Besides the specific qualifications for the job, applicants must
usually meet some general requirements. Citizenship is required for
almost all Federal jobs. State and local governments prefer to hire
residents as much as possible, but as a practical matter they will hire
otherwise qualified people for hard-to-fill jobs.
Looking for Work
In order to catch bass, you have to find a fishing hole; in order
to land a government job, you usually have to find an announcement, the
different kinds of which are described above. First you need an
announcement that a test is being given or that people’s
qualifications for an occupation are being evaluated. Then you need to
find position or job vacancy announcements so that you can apply for a
job, since no matter how highly you are rated by a personnel department,
you usually have to discover your own opening. An evaluation isn’t
a guarantee, it’s a fishing license. And be sure to start looking
long before you’ll need a job. Being evaluated and finding a
vacancy can easily take more than a year.
Governments use several ways to publicize their announcements. The
following are the most common.
* Bulletin boards in government buildings are almost always used.
The obvious place is near the personnel office, but announcements are
also found elsewhere. The State of Connecticut lists 70 places where
they are posted, including courthouses and hospitals.
* Public libraries, perhaps because branches are often located
throughout a government’s area, often receive copies of all
* Local newspapers print brief notices of job openings in the
“help wanted” section.
* Job Banks, which are run by the Job Service, a State Agency,
usually list both State and local position announcements. The locations
of Job Service offices are given in the State government section of
telephone books. The Job Bank or listing is also sometimes available at
libraries and schools.
* Community organizations such as the YMCA, NAACP, and churches
receive announcements; Baltimore sends such notices to over 100
* College placement offices often post job announcements; you can
usually check the bulletin board even if you are not enrolled.
* Newspapers and other periodicals aimed at government
workers–Federal, State, or local–carry position announcements.
Examples of such newspapers are The Chief in New York City and The
Federal Times in Washington, D.C. Besides the announcements, the
articles in such newspapers can point you toward agencies that are
likely to begin hiring even before an official announcement is issued.
* Publications of associations of government workers carry both job
notices and pertinent articles on trends.
* Publications of associations in fields with many government
workers, such as civil engineering and nursing, also carry both help
wanted ads and informative articles.
* Commercial publications also collect and print the job vacancy
announcements for several agencies or governments; some such
publications are limited to a single level of government, such as
Federal, State, city, or county; others focus on all governments within
a region. Check with a librarian to learn which would be most useful to
Finding announcements should not be the only focus of your job
search, however. Many jobs are filled without such a notice being made;
in other cases, the notice is put up only after a preferred job
candidate has been found. Therefore, in addition to looking for
announcements, you should also contact as many people as possible who
already work for the government in the occupation you wish to enter.
One contact will lead to another, and you might eventually find someone
who is just getting ready to hire a new worker. Even if the contacts
don’t point you toward a job, they can frequently offer valuable
advice on filling out applications and on the current job market.
When you find an announcement, make careful note of the following
* The date by which you must apply.
* If the announcement is for an examination, the titles of the
* If the announcement is for positions, the titles of the jobs and
where they are located.
* The minimum education and experience required.
* The job duties.
* Where to send your application.
* Who to contact for more information, if stated.
If you are going to be evaluated on the basis of your education and
experience rather than by a test, the announcement’s description of
the job’s duties can help you use the terms the personnel office
will recognize when you write about your qualifications.
Occupations in the Government
Government employment is so vast that one or two sentences will not
describe all the jobs that need to be done. Many of these occupations
can be grouped by function, such as education, hospitals, and police
protection. The clerical, professional, and other occupations are
exceptions, however, because they are found in all sorts of different
agencies. The following paragraphs discuss some of the large
occupations in government beginning with those found in many different
departments and proceeding through the various functions. The nature of
the work, salary, working conditions, training requirements, number
employed, and outlook are described whenever possible.
The largest occupations found throughout the government are in the
clerical group. Secretaries and typists alone number almost a million.
Other large clerical occupations are bookkeeper or accounting clerk,
data-entry clerk, messenger, and payroll clerk. Besides being large,
these occupations often have high turnover. This combination means that
openings are numerous.
High school graduation is usually the minimum qualification; you
can find a job much more readily if you can type at least 40 words per
minutes. Bookkeeper and accounting clerk jobs may require high school
or even junior college courses in business arithmetic, bookkeeping, and
Salary data for some clerical workers are given in tables 1 and 2.
The Federal Government started typists at $9,578 in 1984; messengers
received less, secretaries more.
Working conditions for most of these jobs are good, since people
usually work in well-lit, heated, air-conditioned offices. The jobs can
be noisy, however, especially because of the new word processing printers.
Several technical, service, operative, craft, and repairer
occupations also have large numbers of workers in many different
government agencies. These occupations include building custodian,
guard, maintenance repairer, and office machine operator. Some of these
jobs are very routine; others are extremely varied. Some require no
particular education or experience; qualifying for others takes years of
training. Salaries naturally reflect these differences.
Building custodians or janitors are very numerous because all
buildings require cleaning. Many of the jobs involve little more than
mopping a floor or vacuuming a rug; such jobs pay close to the minimum
wage. Advancement is possible, however, and a head custodian may be in
charge both of the crew that cleans a building and the craft workers who
maintain the plumbing, electric, and heating systems.
Electricians are skilled craft workers with years of training. They
install and repair the wiring in government buildings. Because the
Federal and State governments tend to have larger building complexes
than local governments do, employment is concentrated at the Federal and
State levels. Large school systems and hospitals also employ many
thousands of electricians, however. Tables 1 and 2 give some salary
information for electricians, who are among the best paid craft workers;
the Federal Government pays the prevailing wage in an area.
Engineering and science technicians test equipment and use
laboratory or engineering instruments. These 200,000 workers are
primarily employed by the Federal Government; however, State governments
employ many civil engineering technicians, and surveyors are found
throughout government. Drafting, surveying, and laboratory experience
or courses in technical schools are helpful in qualifying for these
jobs, but some openings are available for high school graduates.
Starting salaries for those with no more than a high school diploma are
about the same as in entry-level clerical jobs.
Guards patrol buildings when they are closed and keep watch over
their entrances when they are open. A high school diploma is usually
preferred but not always required. Schools, hospitals, and government
office buildings frequently employ guards.
Maintenance repairer and office machine operator are very general
job titles. Although these occupations are large, with 150,000 workers
in the first and 100,000 in the second, they cannot be described in any
detail since so much depends on the kinds of machinery being repaired
and the kinds of equipment being operated.
Among the professional occupations spread through many government
agencies are accountant, attorney, computer programmer and computer
systems analyst, office manager, purchasing agent, and urban and
regional planner. These jobs usually require at least a college diploma
in a field related to the occupation, although technical and clerical
employees are sometimes promoted into a few of them. Attorneys–25
percent of whom work for the government–must be law school graduates.
Purchasing agents are concentrated in the Federal Government, while
urban and regional planners are much more likely to be found at the
Correction departments run prisons and jails and supervise
parolees. They employ administrators and food service, health, and
maintenance workers, although many of these duties are performed by
inmates. The largest group of employees is made up of the correction
officers or prison guards.
Correction officers must usually be at least 21 and have a high
school education. They are almost always trained after they are hired.
The occupation employs over 100,000 and is expected to grow faster than
the average for all occupations.
Education is primarily the responsibility of State and local
governments. Except in Hawaii, elementary schools and high schools are
run by local governments–school districts in most States and county
governments in five: Alaska, Maryland, North Carolina, Tennessee, and
Virginia. Community colleges and public universities are usually under
the control of the State, though they may be largely self-governing. In
addition to the schools themselves, each State also has a department of
education that sets standards, such as the minimum qualifications for
teachers, establishes the syllabus or subjects to be taught, and the
calendar. The U.S. Department of Education conducts research and
administers grants. The local school district, community college, or
university hires the teachers, puts up new schools and buildings, closes
old ones, and prepares the budget.
Education employs administrators, service and maintenance workers,
clerical workers, and, it goes without saying, teachers. People with
the following job titles number 50,000 or more in education (much more
in most cases): Adult education teacher, building custodian, college and
university teacher, counselor, general clerk, institutional cook,
kindergarten and elementary school teacher, kitchen helper, librarian,
library assistant, maintenance repairer, principal, school bus driver,
secondary school teacher, secretary, teacher’s aide, typist, and
vocational education teacher.
Because the outlook in education largely depends on enrollment and
because the number of people in different age groups is changing, the
numbers of some kinds of teachers are projected to rise while others
will decline. Basically, those who teach kindergarten and elementary
school are expected to grow along with that segment of the population,
while college teaching declines. The number of secondary school
teachers is projected to decline somewhat until about 1990 and then
rise; but even now there is great demand for people who can teach
mathematics and natural and physical sciences.
Financial administration is keeping track of the government’s
revenues and expenditures. Collecting taxes, preparing budgets, and
monitoring expenditures are jobs done by every government. Appraising
real estate is a common job at the local level.
Fire protection refers to the work of fire departments: Putting out
fires, conducting inspections, running fire safety programs, and–in
many cases–providing emergency medical assistance. Firefighters are
among the most respected employees of local governments. No one
questions their courage or the importance of their work. Applicants
must usually be at least 18, in excellent health, and able to pass tests
of physical strength and agility. Oral interviews and background
investigations are also very common parts of the evaluation procedures.
New employees are usually trained by the department. This is a very
large occupation, numbering over 250,000; it is growing more slowly than
General control refers to legislative, governmentwide
administrative, and judiciary functions. Lawmaking is the one function
shared by every government. The laws are passed by city councils,
county boards, or State legislatures and enforced by city managers,
mayors, or governors. Judges and justices of the peace determine if
laws have been broken and by whom. All these occupations make up a very
mixed bag. Many of those in them were either elected by the citizens or
appointed by someone who was elected. They are what politics is all
Many of these positions–especially those with county, city, and
school boards–are part time; and many others–especially those with
State legislatures–last for only part of a year.
City managers–who work full time, year round–are becoming more
common. There are about 3,000 of them, and three times as many
management assistants to help them. In many cities, especially those
with a population under 25,000, the people elect a council that appoints
a professionally trained city manager to run things. City managers
usually have a master’s degree in public administration. During
their careers, they may work in several different cities.
Health is not just the concern of the hospitals. The public health
department is usually responsible for preventing the spread of diseases.
To do their job, they employ health and regulatory inspectors as well as
health professionals. The inspectors check restaurants, grocery stores,
and other public places. The health professionals–mostly nurses–work
at clinics, giving shots and providing information on pregnancy and
common health problems. A clinic or local health department can range
in size from hundreds of employees to just a few: A public health nurse,
sanitarian, and clerical worker. Visiting nurses are also employed by
many health departments.
Highways, streets, bridges, tunnels, and street lighting systems
are built and maintained by State and local governments, even if–as is
the case with the interstate system–90 percent of the money to pay for
the road comes from the Federal Government. Civil engineers and
surveyors plan the roads, construction workers–many of them heavy
equipment operators–build them, large crews of maintenance workers keep
them smooth and free of snow, and toll collectors take in some of the
money to pay for them. Since much of the construction and maintenance
work must be done in the summer, highway departments often hire large
numbers of summer workers. Employment has been declining in this
function of government. A need for major reconstruction and renovation
might lead to larger highway departments, but that remains to be seen.
Hospitals employ the best-paid workers in the country–doctors–and
some of the poorest paid–nursing aides and orderlies. In between come
a host of other people: Clinical laboratory technicians, general clerks,
hospital administrators, kitchen helpers, licensed practical nurses,
medical laboratory technologists, registered nurses, psychiatric aides,
radiological technicians, and secretaries. They employ at least 50,000
workers in each of those categories. In addition, they ae the major
place of employment for many other technicians, technologists, and
therapists. Most of the health-related occupations are growing faster
About half the hospitals in the country are public. City, county,
and Veterans Administration hospitals are often general hospitals, which
means they care for all sorts of injuries and illnesses. Many State
hospital primarily serve the retarded and mentally ill; a trend toward
smaller, residential facilities, group homes, and other less restricted
environments for these patients has slowed the growth of these
Libraries for the public are usually operated by local governments.
Librarians almost always need a bachelor’s degree and often a
master’s. Many libraries also employ library aides, however, who
do not need as much education.
liquor stores are government monopolies in 17 States. Clerks and
managers are needed to run the stores.
Natural resources are managed by State governments, the Forest
Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Fish and
Wildlife Service of the U.S. Department of the Interior, among other
agencies. Among the functions of these State and Federal
agencies–which employ over 400,000 people–are agricultural extension and inspection services, fish stocking, flood control, forest fire
prevention and control, irrigation, land and forest reclamation, mineral
resource management, and soil conservation. Workers include agricultural
extension agents, foresters, range managers, and game wardens.
Parks operated by State and local governments range in size from
small playgrounds to vast forests as large as Yellowstone. Besides
playgrounds, a park department might run pools, public beaches, golf
courses, museums, botanical gardens, and zoos, each of which needs
different kinds of workers. The Department of Interior’s National
Park Service is responsible for most Federal parks.
All parks need administrative and maintenance workers. City parks
often have special programs and employ recreation workers trained to run
such activities. Lifeguards, gardeners, animal keepers, and museum
technicians are some of the other people who work for park departments.
Police protection is largely a task of the local government. Police
officers investigate crimes, arrest suspects, and direct traffic. In
large cities, police officers specialize in one kind of work. In small
towns, they do a little bit of everything. Much of the work is routine,
but many people are attracted to the job because a routine patrol can
suddenly turn into a hot pursuit.
Most cities require that applicants be at least 21 years old and
many have a maximum age of about 35. A high school diploma is almost
always required, and some departments look for applicants with at least
some college education.
Prospective police recruits are evaluated in many different ways. A
background investigation, medical examination, and interview are almost
universal. Psychological evaluation, polygraph testing, physical
performance tests, and written tests are also used by many departments.
New officers are also evaluated while they are being trained by the
State police are organized in several different ways. State police
departments typically provide full police services for unincorporated areas of the State. Highway patrols chiefly enforce traffic laws and
assist motorists who’ve been in an accident or have other problems.
However, the distinctions are not always clear. Arizona and Texas, for
example, have highway patrols within their State police departments.
Hawaii has neither a State police department nor a highway patrol.
Hiring standards and evaluation procedures for State departments
are similar to those of city departments.
More than half a million people work as police officers and
detectives; they are ten times more numerous than State police officers.
These occupations are projected to grow more slowly than average during
the next decade.
In the Federal Government, agents of the Federal Bureau of
Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service have duties similar to
those of a police detective or investigator. Total employment is only
about 11,000 and turnover is traditionally low.
Postal service is a Federal responsibility carried out by more than
half a million postal clerks and mail carriers. Each post office and
mail distribution center does its own hiring. Because automation had
made it possible for fewer workers to move more mail, employment is
projected to decline.
Public welfare departments administer programs such as Aid to
Families With Dependent Children, Food Stamps, and Medicaid. They might
also provide social services such as day care, counseling, and homemaker
services. In addition to administrative and clerical workers–notably
claims clerks–welfare departments employ thousands of social workers.
Most social workers meet with individuals, families, or groups.
They try to identify what problems people have and suggest ways to solve
them. Some problems are fairly simple. For example, if a family has no
money because the adults are unable to work, the social worker can
arrange for welfare payments to be made. Many problems are much more
difficult–drug addiction, for example. In these cases, social workers
do what they can to improve things, although they recognize that many
people cannot be helped. Social workers usually have a master’s or
bachelor’s degree in social work. The occupation is projected to
grow about as fast as average.
Sanitation is generally the responsibility of the local government.
About 100,000 people work for sanitation deparments driving trucks,
collecting refuse, and performing other duties. Employment declined
during the 1970’s as this function increasingly shifted to the
Social insurance administration and employment services have become
government functions only in this century. The States administer
unemployment insurance programs and workers’ compensation programs
and provide job counseling and job training. They also run the Job
Service, which is something like an employment agency. Job Service
employees interview applicants to determine their skills and interests,
find employers with vacancies, and match the applicants with the
The Federal Government administers the Social Security program,
employing thousands of social insurance examiners and claims clerks.
Utilities provided by local governments include electricity and
natural gas; however, the ones with the largest employment are water
supply, sewage treatment, and transit services.
A Hundred years ago, a town could provide clean water for its
citizens with little dificulty, and removing sewage was simply a matter
of putting in pipes to carry the waste away. Waterworks are now much
more complicated; wastewater treatment plants are now much more
important. As a result, utilities employ many technicians, such as
wastewater treatment plant operators, as well as administrators and
Public mass transportation systems include subways, surface
railroads, and bus systems. They are usually local operations, but some
States also have systems.
Bus driver is the largest single transit occupation. Weekend work
and split shifts–so that drivers work both the morning and evening rush
hours–are common in this occupation. Drivers ar usually trained by
their employers. The occupation is expected to increase about as fast
Additional Sources of Information
From the above it is obvious that governments offer a great range
of employment opportunities. It is up to you to learn which ones suit
you best. You will have to learn about your own State and neighboring States, your own local government and neighboring ones. You will have to
decide which occupations appeal to you and then find out what
qualifications these various governments demand and what benefits they
offer. The sooner you do so, the better. You certainly don’t want
to wait until your last few months in high school or college, only to
find out that the examination you need to take was just offered and
won’t be given again for antoher year. The following sources of
information should prove helpful.
The federal Government, every State, most cities, and many counties
have agencies that provide information about how jobs are filled.
Counseling to help you determine which occupations you are best prepared
for may also be available. The names of the agencies differ a good
deal. You can learn the ones you need to know from government
directories, which will be in the library. The government section of
telephone books also indicates who to contact for job information, in
Two other government agencies also try to help jobseekers. One is
the Job Service, which provides employment information and counseling
for both government and nongovernment jobs. The other is the library.
Besides directories and job announcements, it will have many other books
and some magazines that give advice on finding work.
Professional organizations and unions are among the nongovernment
groups that often have information for jobseekers. No matter which
occupations interest you, some association of these workers probably
exists. Again, the library is the place to find directories of such
Occupational information is provided in many books and magazines.
Many of the occupations mentioned in this article are described in more
detail in the Occupational Outlook Handbook. You should be able to find
a copy at a library or at a school guidance office. The guidance office
might also have other material you can use.
The last source of information to be mentioned is the one most
people use first: Friends and relatives. Government is so large that
you or a member of your family is bound to know someone with a
government job. Such a person can start you on the track of finding the
right people to contact.