Top 5 public service careers and their salaries



RALEIGH – As college students flood campuses across the state this week, future careers drive many of the decisions they’ll make in the coming months. A growing number of North Carolinians have chosen careers in the public sector, working for local, state or the federal government. In fact, as of 2013 North Carolina had the seventh highest number of state, city or county public employees in the nation, behind California, Texas, New York, Florida, Illinois and Ohio.

Below is a run-down of the most common options in state government for recent college grads, ranked by estimated employment numbers. Bear in mind that a growing movement to combat government inefficiencies and redundant roles is driving recent efforts to cull the state payroll. With the budget debate still running hot, the figures below are in flux.

Here are the top five full-time public sector jobs in North Carolina by the employment numbers. Also listed is the average entry-level salary and total compensation. Public sector employees generally have a larger percentage of their compensation in benefits than those employed in the private sector.

Benefits for government employees include health insurance, retirement, a disability income plan, and retiree medical coverage, a benefit that largely vanished from the private sector years ago but is still offered in some states, including North Carolina.

According to the Fiscal Research staff at the N.C. General Assembly, that amounts to benefits costing the state 22 percent of each employee’s salary, plus $5,378 per employee for health insurance. What is represented is a statewide average based on full-time hours. Some counties offer bonuses or require different thresholds on the number hours required to get benefits.

1. Elementary & Secondary School Teachers  

Employees: 58,580

Entry salary: $34,383

Est. total compensation: $47,620 annually

(Salary is over ten months, with the option to spread same the salary over 12, generally weekday hours.)

2. Registered Nurses

Employees: 31,880

Entry Salary $47,324

Est. total compensation: $63,517 annually

(Salary is over 12 months, potentially weekend and night hours.)

3. Teacher Assistants

Employees: 26,750

Entry Salary: $20,458

Est. total compensation: $30,512 annually

(Salary is over 10 months, with option to spread over 12, generally weekday hours.)

4. Police and Sheriff’s Patrol Officers

Employees: 19,550

Entry salary: $30,596

Est. total compensation: $42,968 annually

(Salary is over 12 months, weekend and night hours.)

5. Correctional Officers and Jailers

Employees: 16,280

Entry salary: $28,170

Est. total compensation: $39,987 annually

(Salary is over 12 months, weekend and night hours likely.)

Source: Occupational Employment Statistics Survey, North Carolina Department of Commerce and US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

As a point of comparison, one of the more well-known, public-sector jobs for new college graduates in the federal government is a military officer.

A Second Lieutenant based at Camp Lejeune, with less than two years’ experience (usually fresh out of college with training in either ROTC or Officer’s Candidate School), earns a compensation package worth approximately $59,000 per year, which includes a sliding-scale housing allowance based on location, health insurance, disability and retirement. In addition to that package, junior officers can earn supplemental bonuses for flight pay, hazardous duty pay, extended deployment and other job factors.