Despite their federal pay differential, many government scientists and engineers feel the grass is greener -- and their special skills more appreciated -- in the private sector.
Today's Monday Morning Quarterback space goes to the wife of a federal scientist. She says they will never catch up financially if he stays with the government job he loves. It will be hard to track her down, because her comments could have come from thousands of people here:
"I've finally cracked! I never thought I would write this letter, but I'm so frustrated and depressed I must unload on someone.
"My husband . . . studied many years to qualify for his position (four years for a bachelor's degree, two years for a master's, eight for a PhD, and postdoctoral position). His education, plus wages lost while studying, was costly. We thought it was a good investment.
"He works long days . . . weekends and reads journals at home. He never takes a full vacation. He is successful and published in the most prestigious journals, gets research grants and got the top international award in his field (agriculture).
"After all his education, he was hired as a Grade 11. Now at 43, he is a GM 13 making $44,000. Thank goodness he won that international award. It gave us the little extra to afford a down payment on braces for our son. We can't afford to contribute the maximum to the thrift savings component of our retirement. We have tons of debt because of the years of educaton. We live in a modest house, have two old cars. This year our vacation was a day trip to Ocean City.
"The worst part is that my husband has been treated VERY WELL by the department. He's gotten promotions quicker than most and makes more than other scientists.
"I have 'only' a bachelor's degree. I'm a teacher and work 39 weeks of the year for $34,000. That's about $872 per week worked. He works 50 weeks (assuming an eight-hour day, two weeks vacation -- Ha!) and averages $880. And teachers complain they are underpaid!
"It was a bad mistake to think a PhD was a good investment . . . .
"Headhunters often call my husband for interviews for other jobs. I think I've finally persuaded him to at least listen to the offers. We have a child four years away from college. I have no idea how we will send him. We are still paying for my husband's education.
"My husband loves his job. But we cannot afford for him to be an idealist any longer. It's irresponsible . . . . What saddens me most is that our children will not even consider a profession in science. They are interested in a 'paying' job. I can't say I blame them. How will we as a nation attract young people to scientific fields when the government shows that the positions which require a rigorous and expensive education and dedication are not valued?
"Who in their right mind would go into science knowing they couldn't support a family and pay off education costs and years of pay lost while studying?" K.S. Maryland