Salary and Race in the Federal Workforce: Which Federal Employees Make More (and Less)

In a society that does not support racial discrimination, we seem to focus on categorizing and counting people by race in a wide variety of ways. The federal government is probably a leader in this regard. Which groups now make up most of the federal workforce and are there differences in the average salary among the racial groupings of federal employees?

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) uses a variety of obscure terms to describe the race of federal employees with groupings using terms such as “Not Hispanic/Latino & Black/African American” or “Not Hispanic/Latino and of More Than One Race.” Presumably the agency has its own internal reasons for obfuscating the actual group they are counting. All of the figures below are results compiled by the federal government.

Changes are occurring in the composition of the federal workforce and the changes are happening fairly rapidly.

The four largest racial groups are white, black and Hispanic/Latino and Asian. The chart below displays the numbers from fiscal years 2011 – 2015 and also shows the average salary for each of these groups for the 2015 fiscal year.

Whites comprise the largest percentage of the federal workforce with 64.01%. Asians have had the largest percentage increase in federal employment since FY 2011 – FY 2015 with an increase of 6.8%. In fact, the number of Asians is now greater than the number of Hispanic federal employees, and the percentage of Asians in the federal workforce is slightly larger than the number of Hispanic/Latino employees.

Black Americans have also increased their numbers in the federal workforce by 1.48% and now constitute 18.37% of the federal workforce. The number of white and Hispanic/Latino employees in government is steadily decreasing.

Asians have the largest average salary among the four groups with an average of $93,223. White federal employees have the second highest average salary at $89,759. Hispanic federal employees had an average of $75,412 and African American federal employees had an average of $72,224. The average salary for all federal government employees for fiscal year 2015 was $81,578.

Here are the statistics displaying changes in federal employment among these three largest groups between 2011-2015 and the average salary for each group for fiscal year 2015 :

Race FY2011 FY2012 FY2013 FY2014 FY2015 Total % Change Average Salary FY 2015 % of the Federal Workforce in FY 2015
Black/African American 332,766 332,875 332,457 333,661 337,676 1.48% $72,224 18.37%
Hispanic/Latino 115,512 111,747 108,475 105,264 102,839 -11% $75,412 5.59%
White 1,220,452 1,209,128 1,190,060 1,177,179 1,176,790 -3.6% $84,759 64.01%
Asian 97,650 99,324 99,755 101741 104,323 6.8% $93,223 5.67%

OPM does not speculate about why Asians have higher salary levels than other groups and why some racial groups are increasing or decreasing in numbers.

The agency does, however, shows how the workforce is changing in terms of educational attainment. This chart shows the increasing number of federal employees with advanced degrees over the past five years:

Education FY 2011 FY 2012 FY 2013 FY 2014 FY 2015
NO HIGH SCHOOL DEGREE 11,446 10,651 9,947 9,531 8,956
HIGH SCHOOL DEGREE 491,951 480,537 465,706 461,379 452,755
SOME COLLEGE 281,178 272,635 261,793 254,349 250,021
TECHNICAL TRAINING 70,719 69,534 68,678 67,908 68,198
ASSOCIATES DEGREE 116,487 116,902 116,546 116,787 119,707
COLLEGE DEGREE 492,196 494,234 492,871 492,276 498,348
ADVANCED DEGREE 391,856 405,264 415,992 423,171 439,819
UNKNOWN OR UNSPECIFIED 747 554 190 361 548
ALL 1,856,580 1,850,311 1,831,723 1,825,762 1,838,352

The number of federal employees with advanced degrees and college degrees has increased while the number with lesser education has gone down each year.

The OPM report does not separate out racial groups by educational attainment. According to the Department of Education, Asians as a group have a higher percentage of college and advanced degrees than others do. It is at least a possibility that this higher percentage of people with college degrees and advanced degrees is a significant contributing factor to the higher average salary of Asians as a group and to their increasing numbers within the federal workforce as the government is hiring more people with advanced degrees.

Those with an interest in further salary research can check out individual federal employee salaries and sort by various categories at FedsDataCenter.com.

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© 2016 Ralph R. Smith. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced without express written consent from Ralph R. Smith.

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About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources.

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