The term “civil servant” is very vast. In general, it encompasses a wide range of careers that serve or benefit the general public. In other words, individuals in civil service positions aim to protect, educate, and assist fellow citizens — at a federal, state, or local level. As a result, these are individuals who work directly for the government or within a government agency.
In the United States, there are 9.9 million civil servants, ranging from public school teachers and firefighters to postal workers and military personnel. Thus, it is tough to establish a definitive wage as salaries vary greatly depending on the job, years of experience, and location.
According to recent statistics, the average civil servant in the U.S. makes $51,220 a year (or $24.62 per hour.) Nonetheless, many positions are paying as much as $103,580 per year ($49.80 per hour). At the same time, other civil servants’ jobs are poorly compensated, with wages as low as $37,530 per year. Keep in mind that working as a civil servant comes with a long list of advantages that might compensate, in many cases, for the low salary.
Below we will go over the most common civil servant jobs’ salaries, determine which are the highest/lowest paying groups, and the benefits related to these types of jobs.
Almost every imaginable profession exists within the public sector. Hence, civil service offers countless job career opportunities and positions. Nevertheless, we will go over only the most common civil service roles such as:
Members of the Armed Forces • $20,000 – $189,600
All members of the United States Armed Forces, including the U.S. Army, US Marine Corps, U.S. Navy, and the National Coast Guard, are considered civil servants. Their main job is to serve the American people and to defend the Nation and its interests.
The military pay system is very complex. It is usually determined by the person’s rank, years of service, and duty station location. However, a person’s experience, skills, and family members can also impact their pay grade.
Thus, it is tough to have an exact number for every military position. But, to make it easier, we divided into categories the standard military personnel’s monthly for each rank:
It is the lowest enlisted rank in the U.S. military. It includes Airman Basic (Air Force), Private (Army/Marine Corps), and Seaman Recruit (Navy) makes only $20,172 per year.
It generally includes service members with 6-12 months in the force such as Airman (Air Force), Private (Army), Private 1st Class (Marine Corps), and Seaman Apprentice (Navy). At this point, military members make $22,608 annually.
After one year within the force, you are automatically promoted to rank E-3 making $23,772 a year. This rank includes Airman 1st Class (Air Force), Private 1st Class (Army), Lance Corporal (Marine Corps), and Seaman (Navy). With every year you are in the force, there is a $427 monthly increase.
Depending on the branch you are in, service members who get promoted to E-4 typically have at least 2-3 years of service and earn $27,684 per year. These include roles like Senior Airman (Air Force), Specialist/Corporal (Army), Corporal (Marine Corps), and Petty Officer 3rd Class (Navy.)
When you reach this rank, promotions are not automatic. However, troops usually get to this level after 3-4 years of service and becoming a Staff Sergeant (Air Force), Sergeant (Army/Marine Corps), or Petty Officer 2nd Class (Navy). At this point, troops make roughly $2,678-$3,000 per month or $32,136 a year.
Achieving the E-6 rank is very unusual. It includes only Technical Sgt. (Air Force), Staff Sgt. (Army/Marine Corps), Petty Officer 1st Class (Navy) — with fewer than six years on the force. But, it will earn you approximately $3,254 per month (or $42,500 per year.) Note that their next pay raise usually occurs 12 years after their enlistment date, at which point they earn $3,875 per month.
Those who achieve this milestone include Master Sergeant (Air Force), Sgt. 1st Class (Army), Gunnery Sgt. (Marine Corps), and Chief Petty Officer (Navy.) These troops make $3,945 a month ($47,340 a year), and after ten years of service, it increases to $4,072 per month. Many members of the military retire at this level.
It is a very high level that is normally reached after 12-20 years of service, earning them $55,884 annually. It includes ranks such as Senior Master Sgt. or 1st Sgt. (Air Force), 1st Sgt. or Master Sgt. (Army), Master Sgt. or 1st Sgt. (Marine Corps), and Senior Chief Petty Officer (Navy).
Thus, rank E-8 military members receive $4,657 per month or $5,374 if they have served for 20 years (or more.)
The personnel within the E-9 rank have anywhere from 15 to 30 years (or more depending on the post.) Their titles include Chief Master Sgt. (Air Force), Sgt. Maj. (Army), Master Gunnery Sgt. or Sgt. Maj. (Marine Corps), and Master Chief Petty Officer (Navy).
Service members who achieve this rank with 15 years of experience receive $5,580 per month ( $66,960 annually). After 20 years, they will earn around $6,227, and if they serve throughout 30+ years, they can earn $7,475 a month.
Know that officers with three to four-star ranks, regardless of their continued time in the service, can make up to $15,800 per month. It is the highest wage a military member can achieve is $189,600 a year.
So, as we mentioned before, the military pay grade is very complex. And, depending on the branch, years of service, and skills, you can make less (or more) of what is mentioned above. Hence, to see the full military pay chart click, here.
Curious about how hard the civil service exam is? Check out this article: https://civilservicehq.com/is-it-hard-to-pass-the-civil-service-exam/
Firefighters • $29,600 to $75,400
Firefighting is one of the most popular civil service careers in the United States. According to recent statistics, there are approximately 1,115,000 career and volunteer firefighters across the country.
Their typical duties include putting out fires, acting as first responders, driving emergency vehicles, and providing public education on fire safety.
The average firefighter makes $44,989 per year. Nonetheless, just like in the military, salaries vary greatly depending on location. For instance, firefighters in New York and New Jersey are the best paid nationwide, making roughly $75,400 a year. Meanwhile, the average firefighter in Texas or Ohio makes $46,500 a year. Other high–paying states include Tennessee, Virginia, Illinois, Oregon, and Missouri.
But, other states pay considerably lower wages. For example, firefighters in Mississippi, Louisiana, or Kentucky make less than $34,000 per year. In Utah, which is the lowest paying state, the average income of a firefighter is only $29,645 per year.
Police Officers • $33,300 – $93,500
The main duty of a police officer is to protect people and property. However, they also control traffic, patrol neighborhoods, respond to emergency calls, write citations, deliver warrants, and more. The average salary of a police officer nationwide is $53,653 per year.
Other factors can contribute to higher or lower wages depending on the responsibilities, time in the force, and location. However, the biggest determinant will be your years of experience. Police officers with 1-2 years of experience make roughly $44,000 per year. Once you have been in the force for 3-5 years, you can earn $50,000 per year. But, police officers who have more than ten years in the force usually make $74,000 per year or more.
Location is also a key factor when it comes to police wages in the United States. Below a list of the lowest and highest-paying states:
- Lowest Paying States:
- North Carolina
- West Virginia
- South Carolina
Mississippi is the lowest-paying state in the country. Here, the average police officer’s salary is $33,350 per year.
- Highest Paying States:
- New York
- Washington D.C.
- New Jersey
California is the highest-paying state in the country. Here, the average police officer’s salary is $93,500 per year.
Postal Workers • $53,848 – $84,000
The USPS is a huge enterprise with a wide range of jobs ranging from collecting letters and parcels and sorting mail to selling postal products and various managerial tasks.
In the U.S., the average postal mail carrier earns $53,848 per year. However, depending on where you work, it could be more or less. And, contrary to other civil service jobs, postal worker’s wages vary not only depending on the state but also depending on the city they work in.
For instance, Atlanta, Georgia, is the city where mail carriers make the most. The average mail carrier in Atlanta makes $24.40 an hour. Other
high-paying cities include Houston, Chicago, Milwaukee, Washington D.C., Dallas, St. Louis, and Philadelphia.
As we mentioned before, the USPS offers a wide variety of positions. Below a list of different roles and what they make hourly:
- File Clerk/Office Assistant – $14.04
- Postal Clerk – $15.86
- Postal Support Employee – $17.23
- Mail Handler – $17.30
- Rural Carrier Associate – $17.90
The highest paying job within the USPS is ‘Financial Analyst,’ with a yearly income of $84,000.
Teachers • $58,230 – $95,270
Teachers are among the country’s most important civil servants as they are responsible for educating young citizens. But, not all teachers are considered civil servants. Only those working at public elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools are considered civil servants.
Why? Simple. Taxpayers pay their salaries. Plus, public school teachers must be licensed by a teachers’ education program regulated by the state (unlike private school educators.)
The average salary for a public-school teacher is $58,230 per year. Nonetheless, depending on location, years of experience, and the level they teach, a teacher can make up to $95,270.
For instance, public educators in states like Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey make between 20-25% more than the national average. While teachers working in the public sector in Montana, Idaho, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Arkansas make 10-12% than the national average.
Social Workers • $55,324 – $70,914
A social worker serves the community by evaluating the needs of individuals who face serious issues. Often these issues might affect their well-being or the safety of those they care for (e.g., children, elderly).
As a result, social workers generally tend to individuals who have problems caused by neglect, abuse, domestic violence, mental health issues, and substance abuse.
The average salary of a social worker in the United States is $59,616 per year. However, their wages highly depend on their level of experience. In other words, a social worker with less than a year of experience can make up to $55,324 a year, while social workers with 10+ years of experience can make as much as $70,914 a year.
It is also important to note that some of the top places to work as a social worker (in terms of salary and benefits) include:
– The United States Department of Defense
– The U.S. Army
– The U.S. Air Force
Lastly, note that states like Nebraska and West Virginia are the lowest-paying states when it comes to social workers. Here, this type of professional earns between 31-44% less than the national average. In contrast, social workers in North Dakota and Alaska make 30-45% more than the national average.
Judges • $35,000 – $166,177
Judges implement the law to court cases and oversee the legal process in courts by hearing evidence, making decisions on motions, instructing juries, and making rulings. They also solve administrative disputes and aid negotiations between opposing parties.
The average salary of a judge is $83,712 per year – making it one of the best-paying civil servant jobs in the United States. Furthermore, judges working for the United States District Court and the United States Department of Justice make up to $160,000.
Know that California and New York are the highest-paying states, paying 40%-59% more than the national average. Within these states, Los Angeles and New York City are the highest-paying cities for judges. But, according to recent data, the single highest paying city is Saint Paul, Minnesota, where judges make up to $166,177 per year.
Registered Nurses • $62,500 – $81,712
Registered nurses provide various services depending on their areas of expertise and where they work. In general, a registered nurse’s job description includes monitoring patients, administering medication and treatment to patients, assisting doctors with their daily tasks, and performing diagnostic tests.
The average salary of a registered nurse is $69,174 per year (or $32.41 an hour.) Nonetheless, nurses make a lot of money with overtime and additional hours. According to recent data, registered nurses in the U.S. make an additional $11,250 due to overtime each year.
Moreover, depending on the years of experience, nurses can make $70,500 with 3-5 years of experience. And up to $81,712 if they have 10+ years of experience.
Finally, note that the state with the highest wages for registered nurses in California, and the state where registered nurses earn the least, is West Virginia.
Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Officers • $21,000 – $42,000
TSA Officers have a variety of tasks to ensure the safety of their fellow citizens in airports, ports, and other entry points. As part of their duties, a TSA Officer screens passengers, cargo, and baggage maintains efficient passenger traffic flows, reports potential vulnerabilities and weaknesses on-site, and more.
The average TSA officer’s salary in the United States is $26,570 per year (or $17 an hour.) However, some officers can earn as much as $37,000 depending on their location and experience in the field. Furthermore, officers working for the United States Department of Homeland Security make roughly $42,000 a year.
Public Librarian • $45,000 – $85,000
Another common public service job is a librarian. People who work at public libraries are also government employees. Their main duty is to select, catalog, and classify library resources. However, they also maintain a library’s statistical and financial records, answer inquiries, support independent research, and more.
The average salary for public librarians in the U.S. is $56,377 per year (or $31.60 an hour.) Moreover, one of the best places (in terms of benefits and wages) to work as a librarian in the United States Legislative Branch. Here, this type of professionals makes approximately $85,000 a year.
Plus, note that California, Maryland, and Hawaii are the highest-paying states for this position, paying 25-44% more than the national average. On the other hand, Mississippi, Idaho, and Utah are the lowest-paying states for librarians.
Highest-Paid and Lowest-Paid Civil Service Jobs
As you can see, civil service wages vary greatly depending on the job, location, years of experience, and skills required.
Overall, the highest-paid group of civil servants is those in managerial and administrative positions. Most of these jobs earn a mean of $40.14 per hour or $83,500 per year. The highest paying role within this category is Engineering Manager, making $52.76 per hour or $109,740 a year.
On the opposite side of the spectrum are occupational civil servant jobs, which are the lowest-paid roles in the public sector. Salaries within this category average $12.76 per hour or $26,550 per year. It is important to note that the lowest-paying individual jobs belong to dining room attendants who make only $9.24 per hour ($19,220 per year. They are followed by dishwashers, who make roughly $9.42 per hour (or $19,600 per year.)
Benefits of Civil Service Jobs
As mentioned before, working for the government comes with a long list of benefits that sometimes can compensate for the low salary. In other words, as a civil servant, you and your family can benefit from privileges only available to those in the public sector.
Nonetheless, keep in mind that your benefits depend on:
- The type of position you have —whether you are a full-time permanent employee, a part-time permanent employee, a temporary employee, or a freelance contractor.
- The level at which you operate (e.g., local, state, federal.)
- The number of years you have worked for the government.
- Other factors
Overall, most civil servants benefit from:
- Health Insurance
- Dental & Vision Insurance
- Life Insurance
- Long Term Care Insurance
- Flexible Spending Account Programs
- Retirement Plans
- Student Loan Repayment Programs
- Transit Benefit Programs
- Government Pensions
- Thrift Savings Plan (TSP)
Additionally, many civil service positions allow for: paid holidays, overtime compensation, annual pay adjustments, within-grade pay increases (WIG), and more.
Pros & Cons of Working For The Government
Every job has its advantages and downsides, and working for the government of the United States is no exception. Below we will go over the pros and cons of working in the public sector:
We have talked a lot about the benefits of civil service jobs. But that is not the only favorable thing of working in the public sector. Many other things make civil service jobs very attractive. For instance, most positions allow for a flexible schedule or even telework — allowing a healthy work-life balance.
Additionally, given that the public sector is extensive, there is virtually a job for everyone. Thus, no matter what your specialty is or your interests, there is undoubtedly a role that fits your skills.
Civil service jobs can also be a way of helping others and making a real difference. Overall, civil servants exist to provide fellow citizens with the best services possible, to look out for their well-being, and to ensure the safety of all Americans.
Lastly, know that within the public sector, there are many opportunities for growth. Many would even say that it is easier to advance as a professional. Unlike the private sector, civil service roles are based on meritocracy. Plus, many agencies have individual development plans to help you accomplish short-term and long-term goals.
Of course, the public sector also has its downsides and less-appealing traits. To start, the hiring process is very complex (especially when applying for federal positions.) Usually, the hiring process for the average civil service job takes longer than that of any other job in the private sector.
More so, given that these jobs often come with a great deal of responsibility, there are many rules and regulations in place. In other words, civil service jobs are very bureaucratic positions — leaving little, or no, room for personal opinions/liberties.
Also, know that many of the jobs in the public sector can also be found in the private sector. More often than not, those individuals in the private sector earn considerably more than their civil service counterparts. However, there are clear exceptions, like registered nurses and school teachers.
Finally, even though government work is not necessarily political, it is highly affected by politics. Thus, these could affect many aspects of the job, depending on the priorities and interests of those in charge.
How to apply to a civil service job?
Civil service jobs are usually very competitive positions. Thus, the hiring process tends to be very stringent. The first thing you should do is research the job (e.g., what are the pre-requisites, the qualifications, documents needed to apply.)
Civil servant jobs are usually posted on official websites. So, applicants may apply online by submitting a resume and completing a basic questionnaire. However, know that there are two types of civil service job announcements:
- Continuous - administered periodically and are open to all applicants.
- Open to State Employees - involve positions that are only available to current employees of the state.
If you qualify for the job, you should apply and register for any required testing (i.e., civil service exam.) If you pass the exam, and your application meets the requirements, a recruiter will most likely contact you to schedule an interview and finalize the process.
Keep in mind that the process may vary depending on the position as some jobs require more in-depth assessments.
What are federal civil service jobs?
As you might know, the U.S. government needs to hire individuals from many sectors to provide services and perform specific duties. In other words, federal workers help the government operate and deliver services.
According to recent statistics, more than two million federal civil workers are employed in the U.S., covering roughly 350 occupations. These positions can be categorized into six main groups, including:
- Administrative (e.g., human resource specialists, logistic specialists, accountants)
- Professional (e.g., lawyers, nurses, financial managers)
- Technical (e.g., engineers, chemists, computer specialists)
- Blue Collar (e.g., janitors, painters)
- Clerical (e.g., secretaries information clerks, office clerks)
- Other (e.g., firefighters, detectives, correctional officers)
What is the difference between a public servant and a civil servant?
The terms “civil servant” and “public servant” are very similar. Nonetheless, there is a slight but important difference between the two. A “civil servant” is an individual who works at a local, state, or federal level for the U.S. government. These jobs include postal workers, firefighter, public school teachers, and more.
On the other hand, a “public servant” is an elected member of the government for public service—it includes mayors, governors, and even the president of the United States.
Thus, technically all public servants are civil servants. But, not all civil service positions qualify as “public service.”
To learn how to best prepare and study for your civil servant exam click here!
For more information about the civil service be sure to check out our free guide here: https://civilservicehq.com/
Please note: This blog post is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Please consult a legal expert to address your specific needs.
Hi! I’m Shawn Chun and I’m so grateful that you’re here.
Civil servants are some of the hardest working, most generous people I know. I have been passionate about all types of civil service career paths for years now and enjoy sharing everything I continue to learn about them.
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