Salaries have, in many cases, gone down in the past year. According to survey respondents, median salaries for all job titles at all levels have gone from $72,500 in 2005 to $65,000 in 2006. Source: PUBLIC WORKS
Work-life balance is the biggest attraction to working in the public sector. The vast majority of respondents receive benefits that private-industry employees rarely enjoy. Source: PUBLIC WORKS

The grass is not greener on the other side; public works employees have better benefits than private industry.

Even though wages may not be as high as in the private sector, it's the work-life balance that keeps public works employees happy. Upper-level managers are stretched to the limit by the constant demand to accomplish more with less, but they hang in there for the benefits.

“What the public sector often offers—that private sector can't—is more significant responsibility at a lower level in the organization, as well as the opportunity to be involved in projects that ‘make a difference' in a community,” says King.

In addition to diverse projects, state, county, and municipal employees enjoy generous holiday and vacation days, solid health insurance, and, unlike workers in the private sector whose contributions to company-based retirement plans can evaporate virtually overnight (Enron, anybody?), untouchable retirement savings.

Six out of 10 of our survey respondents say their benefits are “better than” those in private industry, and they're right. Though one respondent predicts the elimination of his city's pension plan is “the next big battle, just like the loss of the airlines' pensions,” most public works employees still are sitting pretty when it comes to retirement.

It's these intangible benefits (those that the employee cannot spend outright) that keep managers in the public sector. Want a car to get you to, from, and around work? Work for your city, not a private firm. Want all state and federal holidays off? Stick it out with the city, county, or state public works department.

The future may not be so rosy, however. Many respondents are starting to pay more for health benefits, though this trend is not unique to public works. Medical costs are skyrocketing, and private companies as well as state and local governments are scrambling to make ends meet.

“Health care costs are rising and yearly pay raises are going down to compensate,” says a professional engineer working in a waste-water department in Minnesota. “Technically, I haven't made any more money in more than five years.”