Where public employees are paid the most

August 29, 2013

Looking to nail down a hefty salary at the government’s expense? You’ll do a lot better as a professor at Rutgers than you would as a school janitor in  Maine.

That’s because higher education instructors in New Jersey are the best-paid state public employees in the country, according to U.S. Census Bureau data, while non-teaching employees at Maine public schools are the lowest paid full-time workers. The average higher education instructor in New Jersey pulls down $10,795 a month, while that janitor in Maine makes only $1,066 a month.

But there are fewer jobs to be had, across the board. The Census Bureau, which analyzed salary data from March 2011, showed fewer people on state and local government payrolls. Year after year, the number of state employees declined by 12,086, while local governments shed 213,039 employees, a drop of 1.5 percent. At the same time, federal government payrolls dropped by 5.1 percent.

Data compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the number of state and local government employees has continued to decline since the Census Bureau released its report. State governments have shed an additional 76,000 jobs, while local governments are down an additional 131,000 jobs since March 2011, according to the bureau’s most recent employment situation report.

Those who remain employed are more likely to earn higher salaries in Northeastern and Midwestern states with histories of strong unions. California pays the highest salaries to its full-time employees, but eight of the top ten highest-paying states are in the Northeast or Midwest — New Jersey, Connecticut, New York, Iowa, Rhode Island, Minnesota, Illinois and Michigan.

States in the South pay their full-time employees less than other states. Missouri pays its 77,797 state employees an average salary of $3,549, the lowest in the nation. Eight of the remaining states in the bottom ten — West Virginia, Mississippi, Tennessee, South Carolina, Kentucky, Florida, Georgia and Arkansas — are south of the Mason-Dixon line.

Across the states, college professors are frequently the highest-paid public employees, while police officers and judicial employees also rank near the top. Elementary school employees — frequently including teachers — and employees of parks and recreation departments are the lowest-paid.

And different states pay employees in individual sectors dramatically differently. A corrections officer in Rhode Island made an average of $6,650 a month, while a corrections officer in Missouri took home just $2,596 per month, the data show. Public health employees made $6,338 in Washington State and just $3,059 in Missouri. Iowa parks and recreation employees took home $5,756, while working in parks in West Virginia was worth only $2,102 a month. New York state police officers earn nearly three times what a South Carolina Law Enforcement Division officer could make.

Missouri public employees were at or near the bottom of almost every industry sector the Census Bureau measured.

Fourteen states paid a combined total of 6,450 employees to run state liquor stores when the study took place, many of whom were among the lowest-paid public employees. Since the survey took place, Washington State has privatized its liquor industry, meaning the 545 employees have been moved off the payroll. Fifteen states reported employees responsible for air transportation like pilots and maintenance crews who care for state aircraft.

The Census Bureau found a total of 3,779,258 state employees in their March 2011 survey. More than 1.2 million of those employees work in higher education, while another 457,000 work in corrections and 355,000 live in hospitals. States spent a total of $19.9 billion paying their salaries in March; California, which has more state employees than any other state, shelled out $2.4 billion to their employees.

Reid Wilson covers state politics and policy for the Washington Post's GovBeat blog. He's a former editor in chief of The Hotline, the premier tip sheet on campaigns and elections, and he's a complete political junkie.
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