Think working for the government doesn’t come with a great paycheck? Think again

A lot of people consider a government job when they want stability. They appreciate good benefits, like strong retirement options and health insurance that covers almost all you could think of. They probably don’t consider a government job for the salary. Maybe they should.

The website, FederalPay.org, lists some of the best-paying government jobs and their average salaries. We’ve got the highlights here. With any of these jobs, you can live pretty well, hopefully enjoying a long career that gives you the ability to develop savings, reach your life goals, and have a great life after retirement. Check them out.

Program manager ($141,691)

Program managers can be found in almost every area of the government. Look for an agency and you’re likely to find a set of program managers keeping it running.

Once they are in a job, program managers are charged with making sure things get done the way they’re supposed to. That’s not always an easy task but as these professionals grow in skill and experience, they get better at their job and become even more valuable.

If you’d like to become a program manager, you’ll need to have at least a Bachelor’s degree level of education and you’ll have to have some base-level experience in your work area. You’ll also have to have strong people skills and the ability to manage multiple parts of a project, or multiple projects, at once.

Astronomy and space scientist ($141,854)

While a program manager job is pretty general, gaining employment as an astronomer and space scientist is much more specific. By its nature, it also connects employees to something far bigger than themselves — the universe. That’s the basis of an inspiring, life-enhancing career.

Nine agencies have hired for this position, including NOAA and NASA. 

If you’re looking to try to do this job, you’ll need a degree in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) field. Nine agencies have hired for this position, including NOAA (National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration) and NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration).

General mathematician/statistician ($153,383)

As expected, the STEM fields are well-represented in the ranks of the top-paying government jobs. Mathematicians and statisticians exemplify this and they’re hired in lots of places.

Government agencies that hire mathematicians ad statisticians include the Census Bureau, the Food Safety and Inspection Service, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the EPA, and even the FBI.

The diversity in hiring agencies shows that these jobs can be tailored to fit your interests and can be as exciting as you make them. This is one case where a degree as a mathematician doesn’t have to be boring! It also helps to gain some lower-level experience in the area that you’re interested in ultimately working in.

Administrative law judge ($163,169)

With nearly 2,000 people employed in this position, administrative law judges are fairly common in the government. Considering that they are so well-paid, this is unexpected. But they perform a necessary service by handling public claims against government agencies.

Most people in this position, 1,722 of them, are hired by the social security administration.

Education for this position naturally requires an advanced degree and plenty of experience. Most people in this position, 1,722 of them, are hired by the social security administration. Apparently, this is the agency most in need of responding to issues from the public.

The numbers hired in this agency far outpaces the next largest agency to hire law judges. That’s the Office of Medicaid Hearing and Appeals, which hires just 95 of them. That’s a huge difference!

Patent administrator ($166,874)

The U.S. Patent System helps the developers of unique, new products to claim their rights and ownership over their creations. With this process in place, they are free to produce them, market and sell them, and earn money from their inventions.

Most people understand how necessary patents are. Without a proper patent, almost anyone could steal an idea, duplicate a product, and make money off of something they didn’t originally create.

As a result, the 351 staff members in charge of managing these patents have a serious job, albeit one that’s filled with paperwork, and they’re paid accordingly. As you might expect, they are all employed by the government’s Patent and Trademark Office.

Nurse Anesthetist ($168,287)

In the government, as in the country overall, healthcare workers are well-compensated for their skill and expertise. This is especially true for nurse anesthetists, who have to do the highly-skilled job of administering anesthesia to surgical patients or to anyone else who is requiring pain management.

Doctor holding medical instrument
DarkoStojanovic / Pixabay

There’s a reason this job pays so well. Those who do it have to be both highly educated and highly skilled. When they work, they’ve got someone’s life in their hands and any mistake, like pressing the wrong button or moving a dial to the wrong amount, could be debilitating or deadly to a patient.

Where do these people work? As you might expect, anyone looking at taking a role in this position for the government will be employed by the Veterans Administration.

Securities Compliance Examiner ($181,645)

This top staff-level job in the government pays just under $200,000 a year and deals in finance, which also happens to be one of the best-paying jobs in the private sector.

This makes sense. These jobs, which are focused on uncovering fraud that could take down any of the nation’s largest and most influential companies, are important and can make an enormous impact. In addition, if the workers who do them interact with highly-compensated employees, they need to enjoy a similar lifestyle.

As you can tell by the title, all of these jobs are hired by the SEC. Workers in these jobs conduct audits and handle investigations into unusual activities and see these investigations through to their conclusion.

Military generals and admirals ($151,283 to $186,998)

While lower levels of the military don’t pay as well, if you reach the top, you can reap plenty of rewards. Ultimately, if you are extremely talented and rise through the ranks, it is possible to exceed compensation levels that rival or exceed your private-sector counterparts.

As you might expect, the more stars you have, the more you can earn.

As you might expect, the more stars you have, the more you can earn. Oftentimes, these earnings are further supplemented by generous housing on the military bases where they work or with other perks.

Federal judges ($210,900 to $270,700)

Federal judges have a great deal of responsibility, but they also have extremely privileged positions. Their salaries reflect both.  This is true for the range of judges, starting with Circuit Court Judges (at the lowest level for federal judges) and ending at the top with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

Supreme Court judges not only receive a great salary, once they obtain their positions they can keep them for life. The path to this position isn’t easy. It requires education, contacts, and a regular pattern of successfully working in gradually elevating jobs. It is easy to see, however, that if you make it that high, the paycheck payoff is worth it.

Politicians ($174,00 to $400,000)

While staff-focused positions can pay extremely well, the salaries of elected government officials can be even higher. These salaries range from members of the House and Senate who make $174,000 to a sitting President who makes $400,000. That’s not peanuts.

Of course, getting to any of these positions is anything but easy. It requires more than a specific degree or a certain level of experience.

The compensation levels of the people running our government don’t necessarily end with their salaries. They also may have fortunes that supplement their incomes and some receive free accommodations during their time in office. They also receive government-level benefits and plenty of time away from the office.

Of course, getting to any of these positions is anything but easy. It requires more than a specific degree or a certain level of experience. Getting the job requires talent, leadership, connections, and the ability to succeed in a fiercely competitive political campaign.

Important notes to consider

There are a few things to keep in mind as you consider the salary levels of government employees. Firstly, staff salaries listed here are based on reports for 2018 numbers. These will almost certainly change during succeeding years.

Additionally, keep in mind that these staff salaries can widely vary based on geography. While they’re initially calculated based on a range of levels reflecting a candidate’s education and experience, these are then adjusted so that they reflect the cost of living in an area.

New York City or San Francisco salaries, for example, might be different than salaries in Houston or Minneapolis. That makes sense when you consider how different expenses are in one part of the country when compared to another part.

Compensation isn’t just about salary

Sure, salary numbers are important. However, they don’t always tell the entire story of an employee’s compensation. There are a number of other elements that contribute to how an employee is paid.

Some highly-compensated employees continue to receive payments for life.

The government is known for strong benefits packages, but bonuses and living expenses are also available for an employee in the right position. These can range from military employees living on a base to the president living in the white house and the vice president living in the official VP’s residence.

In addition, on some occasions, highly-compensated employees will continue to receive payments for life. The president is one of these examples, but others exist.

These high salaries are life-changing

These salaries show beyond a doubt that government jobs can, in fact, keep an employee and their family in quite a nice style of living. Taken together, all of these benefits can make an enormous difference in the quality of an employee’s life and opportunities that are available for themselves and their family.

Luxuries, travel, the finest schools. It really is possible on a government salary.

A deeper dive — Related reading from the 101: