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Your Tax Dollars at Work: Highest-Paying Government Jobs

Updated on November 2, 2012

© 2012 by Aurelio Locsin.

Whether you think taxes are necessary for your comfort and security, or a wasteful drain of your hard-earned income, a large chunk of your payments goes to the salaries of civil service workers at the local, state and federal levels. Government careers don’t just cover legislators, soldiers and city workers. They also encompass doctors, lawyers, electricians, cooks and janitors. As in private industry, some jobs in government pay far more than others.


As of May 2011, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the highest paying government job at the local, state and federal levels, belonged to the 180 surgeons who received a mean $235,000 per year, or $112.98 per hour.

  • This compared to the mean annual $53,580, or $25.76 per hour, made by all 9.86 million workers in government, exluding state and local schools and hospitals, and the U.S. Postal Service.
  • The 128.27 million working in the United States averaged $45,230 yearly, or $21.74 hourly. The 42,340 surgeons received a mean $231,550 per year, or $111.32 per hour.
  • The top eight highest earning positions in government belonged to medical professionals including psychiatrists, internists, general practitioners and dentists.
  • The next 10 belonged to non-medical staff including astronomers at a mean annual $128,140, air traffic controllers at $117,070, architectural and engineering managers at $116,460, aerospace engineers at $111,060 and judges at $110,940.


At the federal level, the average wage for all 2.71 million workers was $70,100 per year, or $33.70 per hour, including the Postal Service.

  • The highest paying job federal job belonged to specialist doctors not specifically broken out into separate categories with mean wages at $183,960 yearly, or $88.44 hourly. The category thus excluded surgeons, anesthesiologists, gynecologists and psychiatrists, among others.
  • Next for best salaries were the 500 chief executives who headed government agencies and departments to average an annual $164,230, or $78.96 per hour.
  • The 400 public relations and fundraising managers were third for compensation at $142,560 yearly, or $68.54 hourly. Dental specialists, excluding orthodontists and prosthodontists, were close behind at $142,440 per year, or $68.48 per hour.
  • Other high paying positions and their annual wages included computer and information systems managers at $133,320, astronomers at $131,510, architectural and engineering managers at $130,140, lawyers at $129,440 and materials scientists at $126,790.


At the state level, which included schools and hospitals, average wages for 4.55 million workers were $53,180 per year, or $25.57 per hour.

  • Surgeons topped the high salary list with 2,120 earning a mean $184,400 yearly, or $88.65 hourly. Medical professionals occupied the next six positions including psychiatrists, internists, anesthesiologists, dentists and podiatrists.
  • Next came the 13,680 judges who averaged an annual $131,160, or hourly $131,160.
  • Obstetricians and gynecologists followed, with 410 receiving a mean $123,130 per year, or $59.20 per hour.
  • The next high paying positions and their annual salaries included chief executives at $115,370, pharmacists at $105,660, postsecondary health specialties teachers at $103,470, postsecondary law teachers at $103,470, and other specialists physicians and surgeons at $102,540.


Local government covered the municipal and county levels, including schools and hospitals. The average wages of the 14.39 million employees at this level was $47,230 per year, or $22.71 per hour.

  • Surgeons occupied the top spot, with 740 making a mean annual $208,480, or hourly $100.23. The next eight positions belonged to such medical practitioners as obstetricians and gynecologists, anesthesiologists, internists, pediatricians and general dentists.
  • The 32,150 chief executives were next, averaging $121,660 yearly, or $58.49 hourly.
  • Just a couple of thousand behind were 130 physicists at a mean $119,820 per year, or $57.61 per hour.
  • Other high earners and their yearly salaries included pharmacists at $111,610, architectural and engineering managers at $111,330, postsecondary law teachers at $103,350, podiatrists at $102,900, and natural sciences managers at $100,450.

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    • agusfanani profile image

      agusfanani 5 years ago from Indonesia

      It seems so convenient to work for the government there and I agree that government employees should get good payment in order to minimize corruption. They deserve to get that compensation after fulfilling people's demand hoping them to work to their utmost potentials.

    • alocsin profile image

      alocsin 5 years ago from Orange County, CA

      If only I could get me one of those jobs, rfmoran.

    • rfmoran profile image

      Russ Moran 5 years ago from Long Island, New York

      And when they retire, the piggy bank keeps giving with generous pensions. Here are some interesting numbers: In 2009, average civilian fed employee made, with benefits: $123k+. Average in the private sector:$61k+. Good hub, good research.

    • alocsin profile image

      alocsin 5 years ago from Orange County, CA

      I was surprised by that as well, vespawolf.

    • vespawoolf profile image

      vespawoolf 5 years ago from Peru, South America

      The astronomer's wage is the big surprise here. Very interesting. Thanks!

    • alocsin profile image

      alocsin 5 years ago from Orange County, CA

      First comment on this hub, Linda. Thanks for stopping by.

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 5 years ago from Orlando, FL

      Well done once again Alocsin! Next time I have an appt with one of these professionals I'll know how much they are getting paid due to my visit ;)