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One of the trademarks of the current recession has been widespread unemployment. As a result, anyone looking for a job right now should probably cast a wide net and include government jobs in their search for a regular paycheck.
Public-sector employment is sometimes seen as the booby prize of the job market. But there some lucrative opportunities out there. According to data from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the highest-paying government jobs outside of elective office have annual salaries of more than $85,000 and include jobs in a wide array of fields, including law, medicine, science, and finance.
As in the private sector, anyone expecting to be hired in these government jobs needs to achieve a baseline level of expertise. Fortunately, tax dollars not only pay these salaries, but also help fund internships that will give prospective hires the skills they’ll need to find full-time employment in these positions.
As one might expect, some of the highest-paying government jobs are held by elected officials. The largest government salary goes to the president of the U.S, who earns $400,000 a year. Interestingly, the vice president is not the second-highest paid government employee. That distinction belongs to the Postmaster General, whose annual salary is $245,000. The Speaker of the House earns $223,500 annually, the Senate majority leader earns $193,400, and the vice president brings home nearly half the president's salary at $227,300 a year.
So what can job-seekers expect from a public sector paycheck? Using data from the Office of Personnel Management, CNBC.com collected the annual salaries of employees in 10 of the high-earning government jobs, and compared them with the salaries from the same jobs in the private sector, utilizing data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Some are jobs are better-paying in the private sector and some have higher salaries in government positions...regardless, they all pay well.
What are some of the highest-paying government jobs? Click ahead and find out.
By Daniel Bukszpan
Posted 20 July 2011
Annual wage in government: $85,690
Mean annual wage in private sector: $78,530
The decision to become an architect is one not to be taken lightly. Anyone who chooses this field has to pursue a professional degree from a school recognized by the National Architectural Accrediting Board and pass the Architect Registration Examination. Most prospective employers also require candidates to have a few years of experience on the job.
Those who acquire the necessary credentials will find their skills in demand by the U.S. government, particularly by the Department of Health and Human Services, the Army, and the Navy. Job candidates who choose to work for the government, as opposed to the private sector, will increase their potential salary by more than $6,000 a year.
Annual wage in government: $87,206
Mean annual wage in private sector: $72,030
Do you enjoy studying immunology and virology? Do you like to observe microscopic organisms, such as algae and bacteria? Does the idea of closely examining the relationship between these organisms and disease transmission fascinate you? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then a career in microbiology may be for you.
Microbiologists are in demand by the Department of Health and Human Services, the Army, and the Navy. The U.S. National Arboretum offers a six-month internship program for those wishing to enter this field.
Annual wage in government: $88,174
Mean annual wage in private sector: $73,010
As anyone who watches "CSI: Miami" knows, criminal investigators are exposed to great danger and work long hours on an as-needed basis. Anyone looking for a sedate, predictable, 9-to-5 desk job should probably look elsewhere.
Qualified criminal investigators are eagerly sought by the U.S. Department of Justice, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Navy. If you're interested in getting into this field, the State of Maryland offers a Criminal Justice Internship Program.
Annual wage in government: $89,954
Mean annual wage in private sector: $73,240
Chemists conduct experiments, analyze chemicals and develop new compounds. Professionals are in demand at the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Navy. It’s also in demand in the private sector, particularly at pharmaceutical companies, though the government pays better on average.
Candidates for jobs in this field need to be highly educated, and anyone hoping to receive initial experience can pursue a summer internship at the Seaborg Institute in the Chemistry, Materials, Earth, and Life Sciences Directorate. It also pays to have a master’s degree or a Ph.D.
Annual wage in government: $90,929
Mean annual wage in private sector: $103,150
Those working for the government in the computer science field will find their skills most in demand in the Army, the Navy, and the Department of the Interior. But computer scientists searching for the highest-paying jobs will find them in the private sector.
The Internet, and e-commerce in particular, has created an overwhelming morass of data, all of which requires storage and management. This has created an opportunity for anyone with a computer science degree to find a high-paying career managing data for private-sector businesses. Indeed, demand for job candidates in this field has remained strong, despite the recession.
Annual wage in government: $94,098
Mean annual wage in private sector: $99,350
Without economists, we would have little understanding of how monetary policy affects our lives. Economists have the greatest insight into how governments impact fiscal policy, so who better to explain deficits, debt ceilings and tax increases than an economist who works for the government?
Economists are most in demand with such agencies as the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Army.
Those hoping to learn more about this field can take part in an internship offered by the Securities and Exchange Commission. To qualify for the highest-paying jobs, you'll also be required to obtain a master’s degree or a Ph.D. in economics.
Annual wage in government: $100,051
Mean annual wage in private sector: $84,780
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics: “Engineers apply the principles of science and mathematics to develop economical solutions to technical problems.” If this description seems a little overgeneralized, it’s because engineering applies to a wide variety of fields, including broadcasting, nuclear science, telecommunications, and even metallurgy.
People with engineering degrees are likely to earn more money in a government job, as opposed to one in the private sector. Engineers are in highest demand at the Department of Energy and the Department of the Interior.
Annual wage in government: $101,022
Mean annual wage in private sector: $116,970
Every government agency employs people to manage its money. Financial managers coordinate all of its monetary activities, such as accounting, banking, investing, and securities. Government jobs pay well, but the real money is in the private sector.
This is especially true in New York, the highest-paying state for financial managers—the state also employs the highest number of them nationwide. Financial managers are most in demand with the Army, the Department of the Treasury, and the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Annual wage in government: $114,240
Mean annual wage in private sector: $129,440
Anyone wishing to practice law has many opportunities to do so for multiple government agencies. Unsurprisingly, there’s high demand for lawyers at the Department of Justice, but also at the Department of the Interior, and the Department of the Treasury.
Attorneys working for the government earn a comfortable six-figure salary, but their earning potential in the private sector is greater. Still, if you're interested in working for the government, you take part in the internship program offered by the Office of the Attorney General.
Annual wage in government: $116,072
Mean annual wage in private sector: $93,340
For would-be astronomers grappling with whether they want to work in the public or private sectors, there’s really no contest: The field is far more lucrative for government employees.
The benefits don’t end there. Not only are astronomers in demand with such agencies as the Air Force, the Army, and NASA, but knowledge of astronomy makes candidates eligible for positions such as aeronautical analysts, aerospace engineers, and pilots.