It's pretty clear that the immediate employment prospects for planners are grim. I've read that almost every opening in the field has hundreds (or even thousands) of people applying for it, and many people in this forum have mentioned job postings (many of them for senior positions) with salaries in the low 30s or even the 20s. Obviously, the recession has hit the field hard. However, I want to know the long-term outlook. How will the prospects look two, five, 10, or 15 years down the road? These things are difficult to project, of course, but making projections is part of a planner's job, right?
I come to this forum as an outsider who is interested in getting into the planning field (but concerned about the prospects for employment). I'm 29 and currently work as a software developer. From the standpoint of salary and job opportunities, I'm certainly in a good field. However, I've found that I really don't like the work all that much, and urban planning is something that really interests me. I've always been fascinated by the demographics, history, and development of cities. Growing up, I was disgusted by the suburban sprawl that rapidly overtook my small home town and gobbled up the surrounding woods and countryside, and I always wanted to do something to combat this trend. In short, I feel a strong intellectual draw to the field of planning, and I think (or at least hope) that it is an opportunity to do a great public service. However, like anyone who is considering going to grad school and accumulating piles of debt, I have to wonder how well my investment would pay off.
Some of the things I want to know are: When do you envision the job market for planners improving? What will the prospects be like then, in terms of both salary and the number of opportunities (vs the number of qualified applicants)? In a brighter future job market, will planners typically need to be willing to take a job anywhere (geographically) in order to have career mobility? Obviously, in the current job market, planners need to be willing to move to wherever they can find a job, but I don't know if this is true in better economic times, or if it will be true in whatever future lies ahead for the field.
Thanks in advance for your replies.