Pay Scales >> Browse Articles >> General Schedule Pay Locality

Pay Scales >> Browse Articles >> GS Pay Scale Information

Pay Scales >> Browse Articles >> Highest Paying Careers


Federal pay ahead of private industry

Federal pay ahead of private industry

According to an analysis by USATODAY, the typical federal worker is paid 20% more than a private-sector worker in the same occupation.

Dennis Cauchon | USA TODAY via YellowBrix

Federal employees earn higher average salaries than private-sector workers in more than eight out of 10 occupations, a USA TODAY analysis of federal data finds.

Accountants, nurses, chemists, surveyors, cooks, clerks and janitors are among the wide range of jobs that get paid more on average in the federal government than in the private sector.

Overall, federal workers earned an average salary of $67,691 in 2008 for occupations that exist both in government and the private sector, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. The average pay for the same mix of jobs in the private sector was $60,046 in 2008, the most recent data available.

These salary figures do not include the value of health, pension and other benefits, which averaged $40,785 per federal employee in 2008 vs. $9,882 per private worker, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Federal pay has become a hot political issue in recent months because of concerns over the federal budget deficit and recession-battered wages in the private sector.


Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., made federal pay an issue in his successful campaign to fill Edward Kennedy’s seat and is fighting for a pay freeze.

The federal government spends about $125 billion annually on compensation for about 2 million civilian employees.

“The data flip the conventional wisdom on its head,” says Cato Institute budget analyst Chris Edwards, a critic of federal pay policy. “Federal workers make substantially more than private workers, not less, in addition to having a large advantage in benefits.”

But National Treasury Employees Union President Colleen Kelley says the comparison is faulty because it “compares apples and oranges.” Federal accountants, for example, perform work that has more complexity and requires more skill than accounting work in the private sector, she says.

“When you look at the actual duties, you see that very few federal jobs align with those in the private sector,” she says. She says federal employees are paid an average of 26% less than non-federal workers doing comparable work.

Office of Personnel Management spokeswoman Sedelta Verble, says higher pay also reflects the longevity and older age of federal workers.

USA TODAY used Bureau of Labor Statistics data to compare salaries in every federal job that had a private-sector equivalent. For example, the federal government’s 57,000 registered nurses working for the Veterans Administration and elsewhere were paid an average of $74,460 a year, $10,680 more than the average for private-sector nurses.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    almost 5 years ago


    I get a kick out of things like this. The fact is that the results are skewed. Janitors are union-covered. Most of the occupations listed are, in the civil service arena, union-covered. Unions tend to get janitors higher pay for their work, but IT professionals who work for the government are usually paid about 40% less than their private sector counterparts. Tax agents working for the government make more than those working for private firms. Attorneys for some reason make more money working for the government than in private sector, and librarians make nearly double what non-civil-service librarians make.

    The main reason the VA pays their nurses so well is that they have a difficult time recruiting them. People seem to confuse the politics of war with the people who fight in them. I am a veteran, and although I don't believe in war as a general rule, I volunteered to go to the Persian Gulf in 1990. My brother and several cousins are veterans for the same reasons. The difference between a veteran and someone who has been in the military is that a veteran really knows what it is like to risk his or her life for the sake of this country. People who work in VA hospitals are usually veterans themselves because nobody else understands what it is like to have to deal with explosions nearby, or their friends' heads suddenly lying on the floor next to them, or seeing a child run up and put a grenade into a serviceman's lunch pail. Nobody can imagine it. Veterans can, but we wish we couldn't.

    Civil service jobs do not pay well, but they are stable, and the benefits are pretty good. As for comments about the administration, which administration are you talking about? Reagan fired the air traffic controllers. Carter let the steel mills start going to Japan.Clinton signed NAFTA. George H.W. Bush carried on Reagan's economic policies leading to a huge deficit, which Clinton turned into a surplus and G.W. Bush turned back into a deficit. Now Obama gets blamed for it when he inherited most of the debt? I recently repaired my credit in 2006 after it had been damaged for over ten years by my mistakes. I am now recovering more and more of my good credit and for the first time in four years have no credit card debt (though I do have student loans, a car loan, and a mortgage).It has taken me fourteen years to get to this point in my financial life, and my debts only totalled less than $6000. We are talking about a $1TRILLION plus deficit and you want it cleared up in a year? Two questions. What are you smoking? Why the Hell aren't you sharing?

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    almost 5 years ago


    Most of the difference in pay is because a large portion of federal employees work in Washington DC where they are compensated an addtional 20% for high cost of living.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    almost 5 years ago


    This information gives the implication that this has always been the case...not so. Having worked in both the military and civil service for just under forty-five years (retired in 2000), I can assure you this has not always been the case. Don't get me wrong, I am not saying government salaries are too low however, I am saying we need to fix the civilian job market not, rail against those who are finally making a decent salary. The econimic problem is still lack of jobs due mainly to lack of visionand econimic common sense of our current administration. Itis inconceivable to me why they don't understand...cut spending, lower taxes andreturn money to the individuals and small business owners who create jobs.

    Mike, Warner Robins, Georgia

Govcentral School Finder

Save time in your search for a degree program. Use GovCentral's School Finder to locate schools online and in your area.

Get Info

* In the event that we cannot find a program from one of our partner schools that matches your specific area of interest, we may show schools with similar or unrelated programs.