Government employees are also known as public workers because they serve the public at the federal, state and local level. Job titles reflected those in private industry, from highly compensated chief executives, doctors, engineers and lawyers, to more modestly paid clerks, janitors, teacher assistants and food servers.
The country’s 21,656,200 government workers earned an average $51,340 per year, or $24.69 per hour, as of May 2012, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This compared with the $45,230, or $21.74, earned by all 128,278,550 workers in all industries. Government was the largest employer in the country, followed by health care with more than 17,428,210 workers, and retail, with 14,773,220 employees. However, it was not the highest payer. Its average salaries were less than those in several sectors, including the management of companies and enterprises at $71,650 annually, or $34.45 per hour, professional and scientific services at $71,610 annually or $34.43 per hour, and utilities at $64,960 annually, or $31.23 per hour.
Average salaries for all government employees differed by job category and title. In 2011, the highest paying category belonged to management occupations, where 1,013,310 professionals averaged $90,960 annually, or $43.73 per hour. The lowest paying was food preparation and serving, with 550,520 workers making $24,490 annually, or $11.77 per hour. The highest paying individual jobs were primarily in the medical field and included surgeons averaging $190,620 annually, or $91.65 per hour; psychiatrists at a mean annual wage of $169,000, or $81.25 hourly; and obstetricians and gynecologists at an average of $165,170 annually, or $79.41 per hour. The 62,180 legislators averaged $38,860 annually. They showed no hourly pay because of their irregular work schedules.
Average wages also differed according to government level. The federal government, which included the U.S. Postal Service, showed the highest average compensation at $70,100, annually or $33.70 per hour, for its 2,710,740 workers. State government had mean annual wages of $53,180, or $25.57 hourly, for 4,552,850 employees. And local government averaged the lowest salaries at $47,230 annually, or $22.71 hourly. But it showed the most employees, numbering 14,392,600.
Because its employees can work in any city and state, the federal government uses standard pay tables to ensure fairness in compensation. An example is the general schedule table administered by the Office of Personal Management, which handles human resources. This table divides base pay into 15 grades that reflect education, responsibilities and experience. Each grade is further divided into 10 steps, which represent pay hikes within grades. The lowest grade 1, step 1 salary was $17,803 per year as of January 2012. The highest grade 15, step 15 annual amount was $129,517. To further reflect the differences in cost of living among locations across the country, the government uses locality tables to affect base wages. For example, in the New York metropolitan area, the locality increase reached 28.72 percent, which put the annual grade 1, step 1 salary at $22,916. In Indianapolis, Indiana, the locality increase was 14.68 percent, which brought the yearly grade 1, step 1 salary to $20,416.