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BEACHCOMBER: Get a Job With the City, Son

  • By David Barron

DavidBarronMany familiar faces at local city halls will soon be gone. They are victims of the poor economy  and the inability of cities to develop more revenue sources. But even Montebello, with its giant shopping centers, a Costco and industrial center was unable to fund its own fire department services and has effectively closed one fire station.

In Monterey Park, as many as 24 positions are being slashed for the new fiscal year - depending on how you count. The evil civil service bumping process is currently ongoing. Veteran employees in some cases, can “bump” people with less seniority, even though it may be at a lower salary.

Many years ago I worked in the planning department in Los Angeles city during a financially difficult national downturn. My job, that of a public information person, was safe. However, one higher manager was on the books to bump me because he had held my position many years before.

In the end, I  kept my job, but quit a year later to go back to newspaper work.
When an average employee goes to work at a government agency, it is at a lower salary than they would get at a private company. Even managers, make much less in government than in private industry. Although some management salaries at cities have gone up, they have been losing some of the perks they used to receive. Besides that, they are “at will” employees and can be let go at any time with out any reason.

The deal you make when you are employed by a government agency is that you accept a lower salary in trade for stable employment, benefits for you and your family, and a retirement plan. You do not get Social Security benefits unless you previously worked in private industry.

With many private companies you may get some medical insurance coverage, but  you usually have to pay a large part of the cost There is typically, a small pension plan that really can’t support you and your spouse. You do get Social Security pension, but even that won’t be enough to make the rent payment.

So, private companies encourage you to invest in the stock market through IRAs and 401 K plans. (Some government agencies also offer that option.)  These companies also pay higher salaries, particularly large corporations.

I can give you an example of the difference. In the city of Los Angeles, the Department of Water and Power is run like a private business. If you work at DWP your salary, benefits and retirement are substantially higher that if you worked at city hall or at the library. A clerk at the library would probably make 25% less than the similar DWP employee.

Today, the safety net of public employment is gone. It think that in the long run, many bright and talented persons will avoid working for a government agency and go directly to private industry.

Times have changed, of course, and there are better opportunities for bright, aggressive self-starters. If you are a  female or a person of color, there are very few barriers today, even during this period of a down economy.

When I got out of college back in the stone ages, it was difficult, if not impossible, for a Latino to get hired at a major  newspaper, television or radio station. That has also changed today.

Many sought employment in government and in education, the only equal opportunity employers at that time.

-Contact Dave Barron by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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