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States With Substantial Numbers of Lower-Wage Federal Workers

A few hundred thousand federal employees earn relatively low wages, and their numbers vary significantly across states.

A crowd of federal workers wait in line to pick up food bank donations during the recent partial government shutdown.
(AP/ Terry Tang}
It’s commonly assumed that just about all federal workers earn at least moderate salaries. But the recent partial federal government shutdown highlighted many serving in lower-wage positions who incurred significant financial burdens from missing multiple paychecks.

Given the large size of the workforce, it’s worth considering where these lower-wage federal employees work and the types of jobs they fill. We’ve compiled data from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) tallying salaries for all civilian, full-time nonseasonal workers, excluding the Postal Service and a few smaller agencies. 

To be certain, the majority of federal workers do earn at least mid-level salaries as they tend to possess years of experience and relatively high educational attainment. Nationally, just under 6 percent of full-time civilians earn salaries less than $40,000. That share climbs to about 16 percent for those earning below $50,000, and 28 percent for salaries under $60,000, by our calculations.

These figures, though, vary significantly across state lines. 

In South Dakota, 16 percent of federal workers are paid less than $40,000 annually, while about a third earn less than $50,000. A lot of the positions comprising the state’s relatively small federal workforce simply don’t offer high pay. About a quarter of Indian Health Service employees stationed in the state earn less than $40,000, for instance.

Similarly, in Missouri, nearly 11 percent of federal civilian workers earn less than $40,000. A much larger portion of the workforce falls below this threshold in select agencies, including about 18 percent of Missouri Department of Veterans Affairs employees and half of National Archives and Records Administration employees.

Numbers rise substantially when the minimum annual salary is raised to $50,000: At least a quarter of federal workers in 11 states earn less, OPM data shows.


Share of Full-Time Federal Workforce By Annual Salary

State Less than $30K Less than $40K Less than $50K Less than $60K
South Dakota 3.1% 15.5% 32.8% 48.7%
Kansas 0.6% 11.0% 27.0% 40.8%
Tennessee 1.7% 10.1% 26.6% 42.7%
Wisconsin 0.5% 10.2% 26.6% 42.2%
Arkansas 2.3% 10.7% 26.2% 43.3%
Maine 0.8% 7.3% 26.0% 43.1%
Kentucky 0.6% 8.6% 26.0% 44.0%
Iowa 1.4% 9.9% 25.8% 43.2%
Missouri 0.8% 10.5% 25.2% 41.4%
New Mexico 1.4% 10.1% 24.7% 37.8%
Arizona 1.3% 10.1% 24.5% 38.1%
Wyoming 2.0% 10.4% 24.2% 40.7%
Nevada 0.4% 9.0% 24.0% 36.0%
South Carolina 1.3% 8.9% 23.2% 37.5%
North Dakota 2.2% 9.2% 23.1% 38.8%
Mississippi 1.2% 8.0% 22.9% 39.4%
North Carolina 0.9% 7.9% 22.8% 38.1%
Montana 1.5% 9.1% 22.7% 36.9%
Louisiana 1.7% 8.3% 22.1% 35.5%
Nebraska 1.0% 7.1% 22.1% 37.7%
Indiana 0.3% 9.0% 21.8% 34.2%
Florida 1.9% 8.2% 21.2% 32.8%
Texas 1.2% 7.7% 20.9% 34.9%
Oklahoma 0.6% 6.7% 20.3% 43.4%
Minnesota 0.3% 6.8% 19.7% 34.5%
Pennsylvania 0.3% 5.4% 19.2% 35.5%
New York 0.3% 5.5% 18.9% 31.4%
West Virginia 0.7% 6.3% 18.3% 32.0%
Vermont 1.1% 7.8% 18.3% 32.2%
Idaho 1.6% 7.5% 18.2% 33.3%
Georgia 0.5% 5.5% 17.1% 33.3%
Delaware 0.0% 3.5% 17.1% 33.1%
Ohio 0.3% 5.5% 16.9% 27.6%
Alabama 0.9% 5.2% 16.3% 29.3%
Oregon 0.3% 6.1% 16.2% 29.5%
National Total 0.7% 5.6% 16.2% 28.3%
Hawaii 0.2% 5.5% 16.0% 25.9%
Utah 0.4% 5.6% 16.0% 37.6%
Washington 0.3% 4.3% 15.9% 28.6%
Colorado 0.4% 5.0% 15.3% 25.5%
Illinois 0.5% 5.2% 14.8% 26.5%
Michigan 0.4% 3.9% 14.6% 25.4%
Connecticut 0.4% 4.3% 14.1% 28.4%
California 0.3% 3.7% 13.2% 25.5%
Massachusetts 0.2% 4.1% 13.2% 25.7%
Virginia 0.5% 4.2% 12.4% 21.6%
Rhode Island 0.4% 3.6% 12.1% 21.7%
New Hampshire 0.0% 2.5% 10.9% 21.1%
Alaska 0.0% 2.5% 9.9% 21.4%
New Jersey 0.0% 1.7% 7.9% 16.8%
Maryland 0.1% 1.2% 4.6% 10.7%
District Of Columbia 0.1% 0.8% 2.7% 6.4%
Source: Governing calculations of June 2018 OPM civilian employment data. (See data note.)

These figures, of course, largely reflect differences in cost of living. The federal government’s general schedule sets separate pay grades for each locality.

Where agency facilities are located -- along with types of workers they employ -- further explain why some states have more lower-paying federal jobs than others. About 31 percent of all Department of Veterans Affairs workers earn less than $50,000, the top share of any federal cabinet agency, and the massive agency maintains a presence in every state. The Defense Department and U.S. Army also report relatively higher numbers of employees in this lower pay bracket.

(View numbers of federal workers by agency for each state.)


Federal employees generally have attained higher levels of education than those in the private sector, with just over half of workers reporting to OPM they held at least bachelor’s degrees. Experience factors in, too, as the average length of service was nearly 14 years nationally.

Approximating the precise financial toll of the shutdown on working families is difficult. A couple missed paychecks is far more likely to pose problems for a family with children than a single individual earning $50,000. For some, it might mean failing to make a payment on a mortgage, monthly rent, vehicle or other loan. Many employees expressed concerns that their credit ratings would take a hit.

Federal Workforce Data

About the data

Office of Personnel Management data, current as of June 2018, reflect full-time, nonseasonal civilian employees with permanent work status. About 222,000 mostly part-time workers were excluded, as well as about 263,000 employees with salaries not reported. State and national totals don’t include active duty military, the Postal Service and select small agencies not recorded in the OPM data. Numbers refer to workers stationed in each state, not how many necessarily reside there. 


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Mike Maciag is Data Editor for GOVERNING.
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