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Implementing the financial reform bill isn't the only big task looming for the federal government. In the next year, the government needs to fill an estimated 50,000 entry-level positions. This past week, recruiters from 85 federal agencies set up shop at a job fair in Washington, D.C.

NPR's Carolyn Beeler was there, along with more than 7,000 people looking for work.

CAROLYN BEELER: Carolyn Basalla is standing in a line that snakes around one of the massive columns at the National Building Museum. She arrived in Washington, D.C. from Arizona just hours before the job fair began.

Ms. CAROLYN BASALLA: I got an email on Monday actually, saying, hey, there's a career fair. It's the largest federal career fair ever. So, I made very last-minute arrangements, hopped on a plane last night, flew 12 hours and changed planes three times.

BEELER: That's dedication - or, as Basalla calls it, desperation. With a 9.5 percent unemployment rate, lots of people have been feeling that desperation. Basalla has been waiting in line to talk to the CIA for 45 minutes. She's holding a folder filled with copies of her resume and she's wearing one of the three work dresses she found a couple of months ago.

Ms. BASALLA: I bought them all 'cause I figured I should build my work wardrobe a little bit before I get a job. I just never thought I'd have this much time to build it.

BEELER: Basalla graduated from the University of Arizona in December and she's applied for about 70 government jobs. She wants to use her background in Middle Eastern studies to work in intelligence, and she knows she wants to work for the federal government.

Ms. BASALLA: Because it's such a stable job and has a great salary and great benefits, I mean, it's appealing.

BEELER: A lot of people at the job fair say the most important thing is that with the government there are jobs.

Mr. TAJH GLENN: How you doing, sir?

Unidentified Man: How you doing?

Mr. GLENN: My name is Tajh Glenn. And...

Unidentified Man: Tajh?

Mr. GLENN: Yes.

Unidentified Man: It's nice to meet you.

Mr. GLENN: And I'm crazy about the environment...

BEELER: Tajh Glenn is talking to a recruiter from the Environmental Protection Agency. He also visited the Postal Service booth and plans on talking to some recruiters in the health care field. When I asked him what his dream job is, his answer was more practical than aspirational.

Mr. GLENN: My dream job is a job that's going to keep me financially stable, and that's going to keep the bills paid.

BEELER: There was a time when young people dreamed of jobs with big bonuses. In the 1987 movie "Wall Street," the character Gordon Gekko told people that making money was the ultimate goal.

(Soundbite of movie "Wall Street")

Mr. MICHAEL DOUGLAS (Actor): (as Gordon Gekko) Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works.

BEELER: Today, many people are saying that a regular paycheck is what works. Max Stier is the head of the Partnership for Public Service, the nonprofit that organized the job fair.

Mr. MAX STIER (Partnership for Public Service): The federal government, unlike an Internet startup, better not go bust. So, we need our federal government to survive and thrive, and in that sense it's definitely stable.

BEELER: Entry-level hiring in the federal government has been steadily increasing over the past five years as the oldest baby boomers begin to retire.

Mr. STIER: The government has the oldest workforce of any sector and therefore will experience the baby boom retirement wave earlier and faster than any of the other sectors.

BEELER: As job openings increase, though, so will applications. The online process for applying for a federal job is being revamped to make it easier, and that's expected to increase application numbers even more.

Carolyn Beeler, NPR News, Washington.

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