Is there a significant difference between the salaries of federal employees and the states in which they reside? According to data from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), there is a big difference in different states.
Federal employees in some states (or the city of Washington) make more, sometimes much more, than federal employees in other states. Topping the list is Washington, DC with an average federal worker salary of $112,601, not including benefits.
The national average for federal employees is $81,578 with a median salary of $76,131. In 2014, the latest data available, the average American made $46,482.
There are likely a number of reasons for the differential between states. For example, employees working in the headquarters of an agency are likely to make more than employees working in a field office. No doubt, those working in the field offices would argue with the justification for the higher grades and higher salaries often paid to federal employees working in a headquarters organization but, regardless of the personal opinions of those working in field organizations, there is no doubt that jobs in HQ often pay more and there are higher grades of the employees working there.
Perhaps this is the reason that employees working in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia make a higher average salary (and higher grades) than all of the other states. These three areas come out at the top of the state rankings. (Yes, we know the District of Columbia is not a state but we are including DC as a state for the purpose of these salary rankings.) But, in any event, the average federal employee working for the federal government in Washington, DC now makes $112,601. At the bottom end of the salary scale among the states is South Dakota with an average salary of $65,782.
Some readers would argue that the cost of living in a state should make a difference in the wages of federal employees. And, of course, with locality pay, federal employees in some areas of the country do receive a higher salary differential and that drives up the average salary in those area.
But also consider this. The cost of living in Alabama is typically considerably less than in most other states. Despite this, federal employees in Alabama have an average salary of $81,483. This means that the average federal employee in Alabama is number 10 on the list of the highest paying states for federal employees.
Federal employees in Alaska, which has a high cost of living, have an average salary of $79,751 and they are ranked number 16 on the list of average federal salaries despite the pay differential in Alaska of more than 25%.
Federal employees in Hawaii have an average salary of $75,578, number 23 on the list of average salaries by state.
So, while the State of Alabama has a generally lower cost of living throughout the State, federal employees working there do much better than those working in other states. This is due, in large part, because of the locality pay in the Huntsville, Alabama area where there are a large number of engineers and scientists working on Redstone Arsenal for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration or the Department of the Army or other agencies located in that vicinity. There is also a significant presence in the Huntsville area of the Department of Veterans Affairs, including the Veterans Health Administration. Many of the jobs with these agencies pay a much higher salary than other federal jobs, and the relatively larger number of these higher paying jobs combined with the locality pay differential in the Huntsville area, the State of Alabama ends up with a higher average salary.
More information can be found at FedsDataCenter.com on individual federal employees salaries which allows searching by location as well as by agency.
In effect, looking at the average salary by state can easily be misleading because of the differences within the state, the federal presence within a state, the overall federal population of a state, and the type of federal jobs in the state.
Here is a list of each state (and DC) sorted from the highest to the lowest average salary.
|State||Average Salary||Median Salary|
|DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA||$112,601||$111,923|
Where are most federal employees located? Many would assume that Washington, DC has the largest number. That may be true if one considers the Washington Metropolitan area including Virginia and Maryland. But, within the confines of a state or within Washington, DC, California tops the list with 8.19% of the federal workforce and Virginia is second with 7.8%. Washington comes in third with a few more federal employees than the State of Texas. Delaware brings up the rear with 0.16 federal employees working within its borders.
Here is a list of the number of federal employees in each state:
|State||Number of Feds||% of Total|
|DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA||132,982||7.23|
|OUTSIDE THE U.S.||34,337||1.87|