The Cost of Working for the Government: My Reason Why Government Doesn’t SUCK!

Considering a job with the Government may be a tough decision, at least in the financial aspect.

Nonetheless, many young, bright minds seek a position with the government. For me it has been a life long dream, but now in my mid-twenties, with student loans from undergraduate and graduate school, a child, a mortgage, a car payment and rent…I’m wondering can I afford it? But hey, that is life for all of us. I’m no different than any other govie. There is one common bond that binds us all together, we’re passionate about service!!

That said, lets take a closer look at the D.C. metro area and the costs young govies face when taking a federal job. Underpayment of young, bright, passionate minds, is the key reason for loosing them to the private sector.

Take for example the average entry-level candidate for government work (at least in the D.C. area). They are entering government as a GS-7 or maybe GS-9. The salary for a GS-7 to GS-9, D.C./ NOVA region, ranges from $42,209 to $67,114. (Source)

The average cost of a one bedroom apartment in the D.C. area is $1,100/ mo = $13,200 annual (

The average cost of daycare in the D.C. area is around $13,967.

  • Cost of full-time care for an infant in a center, as percent of medianincome for married-couple families with children under 18 = 12%
  • Cost of full-time care for an infant in a center, as percent of median income for single parent (female headed) families with children under 18 = 52% (Source)

The average cost of transporatation can vary and has many complicated figures to calculate exactly what it costs by rail, bus, driving etc. Here are some facts.

  • Over the course of a year, parking costs for a vehicle can amount to an average of $1,850. (Source)
  • Calculate parking costs along with a 25 mile commute x 21 days a month at an average of 20 mpg (less in the city) and $2.87 for gas = $5,902 annual for driving expenses.(Source)
  • I’m not sure how much the D.C. metro runs per year, but you know you can count on any drive time to the station and the average parking fee of $4.50/ day.

So how does it all add up? Well….

If you make $42,209 (-) expenses = $9,140

If you make $67,114 (-) expenses = $34,045

Now just for fun…that is gross numbers, and we didn’t even consider utilities, insurances, food, clothing etc. So on a month by month basis what does that look like for the average govie?

$9,140/ 12 months = $761.00/ 4 weeks = $190.00/ week

$34,045/ 12 months = $2,837.00/ 4 weeks = $709.27/ week

I don’t know about the rest of you, but you better hope you are on the upper end of that GS-9 payscale if you are going to make it in D.C. Factor in your student loans “the average undergraduate leaves college with more than $22,000 in debt…many graduate and professional students leave with loan balances of $100,000 or more,” (Source), and in you’re in for a rough ride.

So, what does it all mean…well…working for the GOVERNMENT DOESN’T SUCK. But for anyone that believes that government workers are overpaid, I beg their pardon. Most of us are working for the government because we are PASSIONATE ABOUT WHAT WE DO.

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Kevin Carter

Thanks for writing that out. I know it would be a lot tougher for me to work for the Feds without the grade increases inherent in the PMF program. Even though it may not be a lot now, I know how fortunate I am to even have a job, and that a lot of the dissatisfaction is coming from people in the public sector who are struggling right now. That government employees don’t make a competitive wage doesn’t matter to people if they can’t pay their bills (even if they were making big bucks during the boom years).

Kevin Carter

I should mention, my boss pulled the numbers on how much grads from my school with Master’s make… I’m in the bottom 20 percentile (or so). He’s working on getting me a bonus. 🙂

Avatar photo Bill Brantley

Disclaimer: All opinions are my own and I do not speak for OPM specifically nor the Federal government in general.

I often remark that it took a recession almost as severe as the Great Depression to make Federal salaries look attractive. And when the economy recovers (soon hopefully) our salaries will not be envied as they currently are. When I started with the Federal government back in 1997 as a PMF, I came in as a GS-7. Meanwhile, my friends were working at various dotcoms and making several times what I made.

Several times, my friends tried to talk me out of my desire for public service because it was putting me into poverty. For an entire year I lived off dollar burritos and dollar pizzas. If it wasn’t for friends who were glad to pick up the check, I would have never gone out.

At any time I could have left government and started working at a dotcom for much more money. But I went into public service because I believe in government and I would rather do something meaningful rather than build yet another web site devoted to selling stuff.

I left government in 1999 to move back to Kentucky and take care of an elderly relative. I did work for a dotcom starting in 1999 which went bust in 2001. Great timing! 🙂 While I was in Kentucky, I worked on an MBA and PhD in Public Policy and Management because I wanted to come back to Federal government.

I’m back and I am glad I am serving the public again. I make more money now which is good because I am supporting a fiance who is only working part-time and have allowed the folks who rent my house back in Kentucky to live there rent free until they find work. Others may think I am rich but I certainly don’t feel it.

Candace Riddle

@Bill Brantly – If only everyone of us in Government could broadcast the tone of your story to everyone we know. What a difference it would make! You passion and commitment to the mission that you serve are evident in your story.

Thomas L. Stefaniak

The missing part of this equation is trying to capture a yearly average value of having a pension based upon the lifetime value of said pension. It is highly likely you would never find an employer offering a pension if you entered the nonprofit or corporate sector.

Rob Ahern

Thomas, the notion of a “pension” for Federal employees is out of date and incorrect. Most, if not all, agencies have switched over to an approach than includes social security, thrift savings (like a 401K), and an annuity. While one might argue the value of said annuity, Feds certainly do not receive stock options and percentage bonuses that make corporate jobs so much more attractive during non-recession times. The simple fact of the matter is that those employees at the upper end of the Fed scale would be making even more money in the private sector- period. It’s time the fabled Fat Government Pension myth was finaly put to rest, as it confuses the real issues that need discussion while fomenting ill-informed public outrage.

Also, the salaries Candace presented above are gross, pre-tax values… employees are actually left with significantly less.

Alan L. Greenberg

I’ve done my time and every morning I say a little prayer of thankfulness for CSRS. CSRS is long gone but with proper management of FERS you will be fine. Granted the first few years at lower grades are a major struggle but eventually, if you have the talent and ambition, you will be in a good situation. Not the same as corporate execs but things are steady, life is plannable because there are fewer contingencies, and most of all, remember we are in this for the sense of accomplishment in the public sector.

William Hatcher

Great post. I’m a professor at a public university, and I face the same misperceptions from people about working in the so-called ivory tower. My tower is far from ivory. We’ve faced three years of pay freezes, and my department is housed in a New Deal era building. But it’s still an amazing tower and life. The question that I take away from your blog post is: how do we in public service educate the public about the sacrifices we make to serve them? One of the reasons I enjoyed the West Wing was that Aaron Sorkin did a great job of answering this question. The president and his advisors worked unbelievably hours not for money but to serve a greater ideal.