The government does not often come to mind when considering an employer paying large salaries. Government jobs are known for offering many benefits, such as stability and reasonable working hours, but earning a large salary like at Goldman Sachs and Microsoft is not always guaranteed. However, for professionals with college degrees and desirable professional skills, some government jobs can be quite lucrative. As of 2017, the following government jobs offer the highest average salaries:
Astronomers are one of the highest paid group of government employees. Because of rigid standards and requirements, most applicants do not qualify. Not all astronomers desire or are commissioned to be astronauts venturing into outer space, but they still enjoy sizable salaries because of their expertise. While the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) pays astronauts well, the Air Force, Army and Department of Defense also employ professionals with astronomy backgrounds in roles such as aeronautical imaging and aeronautical analysis, as well as pilots and flight engineers.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average annual salary for a government astronomer is $146,130. The field's projected growth between 2016 and 2026 is 10%. Some jobs require at least a bachelor's degree, but most demand a master's or Ph.D. degree.
Attorneys at posh New York law firms often make north of $140,000 in the infancy of their careers. However, these firms are notorious for demanding 80-hour work weeks, compromising a healthy work/life balance. For aspiring attorneys willing to accept modest pay, federal, state and local governments hire tens of thousands of attorneys each year. In addition, these government entities pay well above the national average and demand less workable hours, contributing to a more stable work/life balance. According to BLS, the average government attorney salary in 2017 was $141,900 for federal employees, $93,020 for municipal employees and $85,260 for state employees. Although the government needs attorneys as officers of the court, growing budgetary concerns will likely weaken growth.
Financial management is another career in which a substantial amount of money can be earned in the private sector but often at the expense of not having much personal time. The government provides an alternative for financial professionals who want more of a balance in life. While unlikely to match the salaries offered by investment banks and hedge funds, the government still pays six figures to top talent and provides attractive retirement plans and generous vacation allotments. Moreover, the highest concentration of government financial management jobs is in New York, making the move from Wall Street relatively uncomplicated. As of 2017, the average government financial manager salary is $110,610. The projected growth rate is expected to be 19% across all industries between 2016 and 2026.
Rounding out the government careers with minimum six-figure salaries are engineers. The Department of Energy and Department of the Interior employ the most. Students considering engineering can test the waters with a biomedical engineering internship offered by the National Institutes of Health. Computer hardware engineers are one of the highest paid with an average salary of $111,550 as of 2017. The overall growth rate for engineers across all industries is 8% and 5% for computer hardware engineers. It can be reasonably expected that the growth rate within the government industry will be the same. The minimum academic requirement is a bachelor's degree in engineering; this field is known for high starting salaries right out of college for government workers.