Overall, the unemployment rate has been stable or falling during the past six months. The U.S. unemployment rate dropped to 4.7%, while non-farm payroll employment increased by 193,000 in January 2006, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Several industries—including construction, mining, food and drink services, health care, and financial activities—reported increased employment.
The unemployment rate, which ran from 4.9% to 5.1% during most of 2005, decreased to 4.7%, with the number of unemployed dropping to about 7 million. In January, 16.3% of the unemployed, down from 18.2% in the prior month, had been without a job for 27 weeks or longer.
If this magazine's classifieds or online “help wanted” ads are any indication, public works jobs are out there, too. Since quite a few (44%) respondents have been in the public works industry for more than 20 years, it's a good indicator that they'll remain in service to their cities and towns.The Numbers Crunch
So what are you really worth? Some general results from the exclusive survey will help you figure out whether you fall in line with the average public works department employee.
In what type of public works department do you work? Slightly more than 64% answered that they work in a municipal (city, township) department, while the next highest percentage (14.5%) work in a county department.
Are you male or female? No surprise here—nearly 91% of our respondents are male.
What type of degree or license do you have? Slightly more than 49% indicated that they have a bachelor's degree, 37% have special training or certifications, 25% have a professional engineer's license (P.E. or P.Eng.), 19% have a master's degree, 18% have a commercial driver's license, and 15% have a water/wastewater plant operator's license.
What was your total monetary compensation (including bonuses) in 2005?
This was a tight race—the greatest percentage of respondents (9%) said they earn $70,000 to $75,000. Others' wages fell closely around this central number.
How large is the municipality that you work in? Where are you located?
Slightly more than 31% work in small towns of fewer than 25,000 people. The next group (16%) works in towns with a population of 25,000 to 50,000 people. Most respondents are from the Midwest (26%). The next largest group is from the eastern United States (23%), and only a small percentage from Canada (5%).What do your peers make?
Administrative (all areas)
Typical salary: $35,000–$55,000
Municipality size: Less than 25,000, Midwest United StatesAssistant or deputy public works director
Typical salary: $70,000–$75,000
Municipality size: 25,000–50,000 people, Midwest United StatesFleet maintenance manager
Typical salary: $65,000–$70,000
Municipality size: 100,000–250,000 people, southeastern United StatesParks & recreation department head
Typical salary: $75,000–$80,000
Municipality size: Less than 50,000 people, Midwest United StatesPlanning/zoning/inspection engineer
Typical salary: $65,000–$70,000
Municipality size: 100,000–250,000 people, western United StatesTransportation supervisor
Typical salary: $80,000–$85,000
Municipality size: 500,000–1 million people, western and southeastern United StatesWater plant operator
Typical salary: $30,000–$45,000
Municipality size: Less than 25,000, Midwest United StatesThe brain drain
Call it what you will—the brain drain, a Medicare headache, a demographic shift—our workforce is getting older. Baby Boomers, who make up the bulk of America's workers, are retiring or moving into semi-retirement. In the next 10 years, more than 70 million Americans will retire. The trend, however, of people working much longer (read: older employees) is increasing.
According to respondents of PUBLIC WORKS magazine's survey, the nice “bell curve” of workers' ages is a little skewed. People between the ages of 42 and 60 are considered Baby Boomers, and these public works officials are going to be leaving the municipalities in which they work en masse over the next few years. There aren't nearly as many people at the “young end” of the curve as at the older end, which may hurt cities and local governments in the not-so-distant future.
There is good news for the younger public works officials, however. As the availability of these workers has declined with the aging of the Baby Boomers, public pay has been catching up, according to economists and consultants.
Since quite a few survey respondents had employees reporting to them, it's a great opportunity for them to mentor the younger generation. According to the survey, 19% of respondents indicated that they had four to six people reporting to them. Nearly 17% had more than 25 people directly under them.Survey methodology
Surveys were completed by PUBLIC WORKS magazine readers in January 2006 using a Web-based survey system. Survey participants were given an incentive to earn a gift certificate, prompting 2600 readers to respond. Data are a reflection of survey responses, unless otherwise noted.