Hottest Fields: Government Jobs vs. Private Jobs

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retail cashierIf you're shopping for a job, you'll probably have the best luck finding something in the retail sales or cashiers departments. According to the most recent numbers released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, those occupations employ the largest number of people in the private sector. Retail sales accounts for 4.2 million workers and 3.4 million are cashiers. Together they make up almost 7 percent of all non-government jobs.

And if you're looking for a government position, it seems your best luck would be in elementary education. Elementary school teachers had the highest employment among all occupations in federal, state, and local government, according to a release from the BLS's Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program. Also, the government generally pays better.

-- See average salaries for people employed by the government.

Here are some other fascinating facts about how the most U.S. workers are employed, and by whom:

  • Food service is next.

    The third-largest occupation in the private sector is food preparation and serving workers, which accounted for slightly more than 2 percent of total private employment. That represents a little over 2.5 million workers. Waiters and waitresses make up the fourth-largest occupation, employing nearly 2.3 million.


  • Wages aren't great in the most popular private fields, but the news isn't all bad.

    Many of the largest occupations in the private sector were relatively low-paying; for example waiters and waitresses have a mean hourly wage of $9.80. Some occupations, however, paid significantly more on average, such as registered nurses ($32.07), the seventh-largest occupation, employing 2.1 million, and general and operations managers ($53.77), 11th on the list, with almost 1.6 million employed in that field.


  • Despite the rise of the Internet, the federal government agency that employs the most is the U.S. Postal Service.

    Four occupations involved with the U.S. Postal Service accounted for 23 percent of all federal employment. Specifically, they are; postal carriers; postal service mail sorters, processors and processing machine operators; postal service clerks and postmasters; and mail superintendents. And they don't pay too poorly -- the mean income ranges from about $19.00 to $28.65 per hour.


  • Analysts, agents and officers are also popular fed jobs.

    Aside from occupations specific to the U.S. Postal Service, the largest occupations in federal government included: management analysts; detectives and criminal investigators; purchasing agents, except wholesale, retail, and farm products; all other business operations specialists; and compliance officers.


  • Compare salaries for state and local government versus federal government employees.


  • Correctional facilities create most state jobs.

    Correctional officers and jailers make up the the largest number of state employees, about 257,280 or 6 percent. General office clerks account for around 5 percent of total state employment. It seems the state pays better than the private sector, but not as well as the fed. Mean wages for these positions come in at $14-$21 per hour.


  • Education dominates local government jobs, with protective services next.

    Employment in local government is concentrated in teaching occupations. Elementary, middle, and secondary school teachers (except special education) account for 20 percent of employment. Protective service occupations, such as police and sheriff's patrol officers and firefighters, are also big. Police and sheriff officers generally average higher salaries than firefighters: The mean wage is s $26.47 per hour for the former, $23.01 for the latter.

It's interesting to note that for the vast majority of workers, the government pays better than the private sector. Of course, top private-sector positions pay far more than top government jobs -- some even pay millions more. But those jobs are few and far between. It seems the average American would probably make more working for the government, whether it's federal, state or local. And don't forget those benefits and pensions.

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