The federal government is capturing an increasing amount of the remaining job creation in cities around the country. But perhaps more significantly, it's also increasingly capturing the minds of those coming of age. Business school apps might be up as people flee the weak job market, but apps at schools of public affairs are up even more.
Writing on this subject today in the Washington Examiner, Gene Healy has a more powerful statistic:
A 1999 survey asked Gen X college seniors to name their ideal employers; they "filled the entire list with for-profit businesses like Microsoft and Cisco." What a difference a generation makes. In the same poll today, Gen Y prefers the State Department, Teach for America, and the Peace Corps. That's a problem for a country built on the entrepreneurial spirit.
Think about these generations' respective experiences with the private sector versus the government. If you're a college senior in 1999, your experience with business is the one of the greatest sustained economic booms in human history. You don't think Gordon Gekko or Ken Lay, you think Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. The biggest things the government has done that you remember is raise taxes and fool around with interns.
For Generation Y college seniors, the biggest private-sector stories have been Enron and subprime mortgages. For government, sure, there's George W. Bush and the bungling of the war in Iraq, but the predominant mindset since September 11th that you've heard over and over again is that government needs to act.
Are these the conclusions that any of these college seniors should be making? Maybe, maybe not, but these to me seem like the prevailing perceptions. As this poll shows, perceptions really do matter when it comes to not just forming opinions about the world, but forming opinions about one's personal place and goals in the world.