Columns, Opinions

Mitra ’18: Don’t give up on public service

By
Opinions Editor
Monday, April 17, 2017

I still visibly flinch when I think about the day after the election. Like many others at Brown, I was simultaneously numb and furious. But the worst moment of the day wasn’t when I heard that former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton had unexpectedly lost Florida, or when I saw the New York Times alert on my phone announcing President Trump’s victory, or even when I forced myself to sit through Clinton’s heartbreaking concession speech. It was heading down to the State House that morning for my part-time internship, knowing all the while that our government would never be the same.

That day, for the first time since I arrived in Providence, the sight of the State House dome didn’t fill me with adrenaline; I walked down the historic hallways feeling claustrophobic and disillusioned. The prospect of a government job had lost its charm, and all I wanted to do was run in the other direction. But a couple of hours later, I heard my coworkers comforting each other: “It’s moments like these that remind us why we do what we do. Because in four years, we’re still going to be here and our work is still going to matter.” And then, someone else told me a few days later: “You’re too young to be this jaded. We need our young workers to stay passionate and engaged for the future.”

In the months since the election, these ideas have been echoed time and time again, often as trite platitudes before a barrage of doomsday predictions about the Trump administration. Yet, there was something about these moments — and frankly, my emotional vulnerability in the days following the election — that kept the words at the forefront of my mind.

It might be a cliche, it might be overused, but it is true nonetheless: Now more than ever, it is vital that millennials who care about government and public service find their way into those sectors. Evidence suggests that our generation is one of the most service-minded, diverse and progressive. We’re more willing to catalyze large-scale change, and more likely to believe in the importance of government work as a whole.

Unfortunately, we are also part of the generation least likely to pursue public service. Even before the election of Trump, younger workers were less than thrilled by the prospect of a government-related job. The percentage of the federal workforce under 30 dropped by 7 percent over the course of 2014, resulting in the lowest under-30 federal employment rate in over a decade. In 2015, millennials made up just 24.5 percent of government employees, as opposed to 33.7 percent of the corporate world.  More significantly, we simply don’t see government as the best venue for substantial change anymore.

There is not enough data to assess the federal government’s generational makeup under Trump. Yet, given that just 37 percent of young voters voted for Trump, it is safe to say that many millennials who would have pursued jobs in government are having second thoughts. These misgivings actually seem to permeate partisan lines: After conservative experts criticized Trump’s credentials during the campaign, many young Republicans are also doubtful about working in the public sector. Trump’s budget cuts could also further reduce millennial employment in all levels of government and government-funded organizations, dissuading many from even considering these positions.

These considerations have been prevalent at Brown: Many students are rethinking their entire career plans in light of the election, wondering if they would be able to make a difference in the political arena or if they would just be complicit. Since November, I have heard many friends — people who have spent years believing they were going to work in politics — articulate how they have given up on government and policy altogether. Now, I can understand wanting to avoid the federal government at all costs: Many of us would find it difficult, if not impossible, to stomach the idea of working under a Trump administration and implementing his capricious policies. But state and local governments, non-profit organizations, campaigns, research institutions and many others are all contributing in their own way to the movement against regressive policies. Many of them are simultaneously expanding their employee base to respond to the unique challenges of the current presidency. Their work — in a period of unforeseen adversity and frustration — holds the Trump administration accountable and ensures that in four years, the (hopefully) new administration will have the platform and tools to pick up the pieces. We can’t let the skills and experience needed to oversee the reestablishment and growth of progressive policies lapse over the next four years.

As Brown students — particularly those concentrating in the social sciences — increasingly re-evaluate their career choices in the wake of the election, it is understandable that the public sector might not hold the appeal that it once did. But we shouldn’t abandon it just yet. There are many other venues to enact governmental change in the long term, and there’s no better time to do it. Progress is, after all, more than just immediate change.

Mili Mitra ’18 can be reached at mili_mitra@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and other op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.