Monday, April 13, 2009

The New Adventures of the Old Public Sector

The New York Times reports that young people are flocking to the public sector.
"What will the new map of talent look like? It's early, but based on graduate school applications this spring, enrollment in undergraduate courses, preliminary job-placement results at schools, and the anecdotal accounts of students and professors, a new pattern of occupational choice seems to be emerging. Public service, government, the sciences and even teaching look to be winners, while fewer shiny, young minds are embarking on careers and business consulting."
While I appreciate many of the insights in this article, particularly David Ellwood's (dean of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government) coining of the term "benevolent perfect storm," to most young people (high school to graduate level, I would say), this is not exactly new news.

The economic crisis may be exacerbating this trend, but it is only part of the equation. Young people began quietly shifting to careers in public service long before all the lawyers started getting laid off. Perhaps it's time we enhanced our 1960s definition of civic activism and took better note of the myriad of ways young people today are choosing to affect change.

Anyone else out there with me?


Berna said...

Do you think that this trend has really been in effect or amongst our self-selective groups? I'm wondering if this has been a long-standing trend or a sign of the times.

Sonya Behnke said...

I think you can see from the energy (and the sheer numbers) the Obama campaign captured amongst young people that some sort of a "public service" trend began before the recession. This certainly occurred as early as the primaries - and, of course, politics only measure one form of civic activism.

Perhaps you could argue that this "trend" began with the onset of the Obama campaign. I would be curious to know, however, what application trends at public policy graduate programs, public administration programs, and the like have looked like over the past five to seven years. I suspect the upward trend towards public service began before Obama.