Through much of the recession, individuals working in public service jobs have enjoyed greater job security than many employees in the private sector. Given some of the recent information coming out of Wisconsin and California, it's no wonder that some people are questioning how and why some public service workers are being paid such hefty wages for jobs that would pay much less in the private sector - some positions which may even require relatively little skill. Considering that the national average salary is around $41,000 per year, some public service jobs pay far more than that and typically come with good benefits, regular pay increases and job security. (Focusing on salary may be a mistake. Find out which benefits have the highest long-run payoff. Refer to Job Hunting: Higher Pay Vs. Better Benefits.)
TUTORIAL: All About Inflation

Public Transit Attendant
In larger cities with significant subway systems, those conductors and attendants working on the platforms are almost definitely earning a wage that exceeds the national average. The average annual salary for a subway conductor or engineer is about $62,000 per year. That's a pretty impressive wage at roughly 51% more than the national average. Though no one would deny the value of keeping the city moving, one has to consider that many public transit attendants are probably earning more than many of the individuals they're transporting to and from work each day.

Prison Medical Staff
There are several instances of doctors, psychiatrists and dentists in prisons earning outrageous salaries. One surgeon in a California prison is reported to have earned $775,000, while another doctor in a California prison apparently earned $784,596 including bonuses, overtime and other forms of compensation. One of California's prison psychologists is reported to have earned $737,057. Another of California's prisons paid a dentist $621,971, again covering unused benefits that the employee had accrued over time.

California Teachers
Teachers require post-secondary education, and there is no doubt that this is a valued profession. However, teachers in California are the highest paid in the nation. According to Payscale.com, the average elementary school teacher earns approximately $40,058 per year, and the average high school teacher earns $43,368 per year. These figures fit right in with the national average yearly salary. However, in the state of California, the average teacher earns $59,825 annually. That is roughly 38% more per year than the average high school teacher is earning in much of the rest of the country, and about 46% more than the national average annual salary - these figures certainly make teaching a more appealing career choice, especially in the state of California.

Toll-Booth Attendant
Toll-booth attendants are reported to earn an average annual salary of $45,000 per year. This salary exceeds the national average, which is notable considering that this job is relatively low-skilled and requires no post-secondary education. It is also reported that the highest paid toll-booth operator salary in Maine in 2009 was $76,219, which is an impressive 85% more than the national average annual salary.

Fire Chief
Though this job certainly does require a lot of training, experience and exposure to the obvious dangers associated with fire-fighting, once you work your way up through the ranks to fire chief, you'd be looking at a fairly hefty salary. The median annual salary for fire chiefs is between $73,435 and $95,271 per year, with a benefits package in addition to that.

Trash Collector
It's unlikely that kids grow up dreaming of becoming trash collectors, but the average annual salary certainly may change some adults' feelings toward this not-so-glamorous career option. Salaries in this job vary greatly depending upon region, though New York City trash collectors are reported to receive the hefty salaries of $67,000 per year, not including overtime. Of course, many regions in the United States are not paying this kind of salary to their garbage collectors, though the national average salary still sits at around $43,000 per year, which can increase to about $60,000 per year after you factor in overtime, bonuses and benefits. This is certainly a high-paying job considering that it requires little skill or training, though it certainly does have its share of drawbacks in the form of long hours, early start times and unpleasant working conditions.

University Chancellor
In a time when budget cuts impact the ability for educational institutions to operate, and tuition hikes impact the ability of students to obtain post-secondary education, it appears that being the chancellor of a big university has never been better. One university chancellor in Texas is reported to have earned $813,892 in 2009, while another chancellor in New York earned $560,038. Even if you consider these figures to be out of the ordinary, the national average salary for university chancellors is reported to be around $244,000 a year, plus bonuses and benefits. (The pay may not be as competitive as Wall Street, but the work environment, opportunity and knowing your helping out an educational facility is worth it. Check out A Career In Endowment Management.)

The Bottom Line
Overtime, benefits and job security all count for something when it comes to an overall compensation package. Keep in mind that not all public service jobs are overpaid, in fact, some public service jobs actually pay less than in private industry - public defenders for example. And one of the main reasons that public service workers can end up earning so much is that they get regular salary increases with the number of years of service they put in, and many have unions to represent them in collective bargaining. Some public service jobs also give employees the opportunity to increase their salaries by taking payment in exchange for unused benefits - which has certainly led to the large number of outrageous salaries in the state of California. That being said, taxpayers definitely have a right to know where their tax dollars are going and should question how their governments spend money.

Related Articles
  1. Personal Finance

    How To Get That Entry-Level Financial Analyst Job

    Landing a job as a financial analyst takes study, strategy and a lot of hard work. Here's how to hone your competitive edge.
  2. Entrepreneurship

    Top 10 Side Jobs You Could Start Now

    Ways to make extra cash in your spare time.
  3. Professionals

    The Rich Get Richer: Global Wealth is Rising

    Global wealth is rising and expected to continue. Advisors should know that the wealthy value fee transparency, performance.
  4. Retirement

    Why are 401(k) contributions limited?

    Find out why contributions to 401(k) retirement plans are limited, including what the current contribution limits are and how limits encourage participation.
  5. Stock Analysis

    Why Walmart Raised Its Minimum Wage

    Read about the potential pros and cons of Walmart's promise to increase its minimum starting salary to $10 an hour.
  6. Entrepreneurship

    Millennials Guide: Freelancer vs. Employee

    How to decide if joining the gig economy is right for you.
  7. Savings

    All About Income

    Income is the money you or a business earns by providing goods or services, or through investments.
  8. Insurance

    Healthcare Premiums Keep Rising, But Salaries Aren’t

    Learn how college and health insurance costs have skyrocketed while wages have stagnated, and how, given the necessity of these services, consumers are stuck.
  9. Professionals

    Career Advice: Management Consulting Vs. Law

    Compare the career opportunities between management and law using such criteria as skills needed, starting salary and work-life balance.
  10. Entrepreneurship

    Bill Gates Success Story: Net Worth, Education & Top Quotes

    Learn about billionaire Bill Gates, and how the computer genius forged his own path from an early life and eventually changed the world with his innovation.
RELATED TERMS
  1. Indemnity

    Indemnity is compensation for damages or loss. Indemnity in the ...
  2. Back Pay

    The amount of salary and other benefits that an employee claims ...
  3. Contingent Commission

    A commission with a value dependent on an event occurring, and ...
  4. Collection Commission

    The percentage of premiums that an agent is owed for collecting ...
  5. Payroll Card

    A prepaid card onto which an employer loads an employee’s wages ...
  6. Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act

    A federal law designed to ensure equal pay for all workers, regardless ...
RELATED FAQS
  1. What is the difference between AGI (adjusted gross income) and gross income?

    In the United States, individuals pay taxes based on their adjusted gross income, or AGI, rather than their gross income. ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. Does my employer's matching contribution count towards the maximum I can contribute ...

    Contributions to 401(k) plans come from employee salary deferral and employer match dollars. According to the IRS, employees ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. How is marginal propensity to save calculated?

    Marginal propensity to save is used in Keynesian macroeconomics to quantify the relationship between changes in income and ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. How can minimum wages contribute to a market failure?

    The minimum wage acts like a price floor on labor, reducing the supply of jobs available to a level below the market-clearing ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. Why should investors research the C-suite executives of a company?

    C-suite executives are essential for creating and enacting overall firm strategy and are therefore an important aspect of ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. How does the always be closing (ABC) strategy benefit a salesperson's sales funnel?

    It is good practice in sales to always be closing, because it's common for a salesperson's sales funnel to be leaky. When ... Read Full Answer >>

You May Also Like

Trading Center
×

You are using adblocking software

Want access to all of Investopedia? Add us to your “whitelist”
so you'll never miss a feature!