Who’s Your Highest-Paid State Employee?

State employees: hard-working civil servants working to ensure that the machinery of your state runs smoothly, right? You’re thinking about firemen, police officers, teachers, social workers, and, yes, the dreaded highway crew. But this is actually a huge employment category, and you might be surprised by some of the people working for the state, and the kinds of salaries they’re making. To whit: a look at the country as a whole reveals that the highest paid state employee in four out of five states is…a sports coach.

This statistic should be viewed with some caution, as Reuben Fischer-Baum notes in his discussion of his piece: “Far exceeding these base salaries [paid from revenue the team generates, not with your taxes] is the ‘additional compensation’ that almost all of these coaches receive, which is tied to media appearances, apparel contracts, and fundraising. While this compensation does not come directly from the state fund it is guaranteed in the coaches’ contracts; if revenue falls short, the school—and thus the state—is on the hook to cover the difference.”

You might not be thinking this is important news; if coaches are essentially paying themselves with the money their team makes and you’re not on the hook for the money (most of the time), what’s the big deal? Compensation practices in the private sector, after all, aren’t closely monitored, with a few notable exceptions like that of executive compensation at publicly traded companies.

The issue here is that athletic coaches make a salary far, far above that of most other state employees, highlighting the pay disparities in the United States. While no one wants to begrudge someone an earned salary — and coaches do work, hard, for their salaries — there’s a growing social divide in the United States that’s neatly illustrated by this stark look at pay across the country.

The average salary for full-time public-school teachers in the U.S. is about $56,000, according to the United States Department of Education. Contrast that with millions for coaches, who, incidentally, don’t bring in much revenue for the schools they work for. Most of the money earned by athletics teams goes to paying the costs of team maintenance, and while having a prestigious team attached to a college or university may attract students and some alumni donations, it certainly doesn’t result in more equipment and resources for students on campus, let alone better working conditions for staff.

As Fischer-Baum points out, major athletic departments actually lose money, rather than bring it in.

With a growing number of colleges and universities turning to adjunct faculty to supply their staffing needs, the high salaries of coaches are particularly remarkable; universities are willing to commit to covering coaches for guaranteed compensation in their contracts, but not to hire appropriate full-time staff for many of their academic departments.

Those highway workers laboring in the hot sun? They earned a mean annual wage of around $36,000, according to the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Social workers? $45,000. That’s still well above the poverty rate in the United States, but it’s often not enough to survive in areas with a high cost of living, like New York, San Francisco and Chicago. Even as these state workers struggle to make ends meet, attacks from without suggest that they’re looting the state when they demand basic rights like access to their pension plans.

Something is clearly awry when the highest-paid state employee makes millions and those working at the ground level rarely, if ever, break $100,000 annually. While coaches have a role to play, their outsize salaries are out of touch with the reality lived by other state employees, speaking to a larger social disconnect when it comes to prioritizing how we spend public funds and how we treat various professions.

Athletics coaches receive hero worship, while public school teachers receive crumbs from the plate and pink slips at the end of the semester. Something is very, very wrong here.

Photo credit: Chris Hunkeler

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Andre Yokers
Andre Yokers2 years ago

Yes, who are the servants, really?! Lol.

Virginia B.
Virginia B.2 years ago

Back in the 19th century, sports were added to college/university (at the time, predominantly for males) curriculae to help keep the young men's raging hormones in check, so that they could focus on their studies. It wasn't until the media became involved in college / university sports, that huge money came into the picture.
In our state, our university's football coach* is paid more than the state's governor or the president of our large university!!
* Our football team hasbeen far less than mediocre for decades!!

Fred Hoekstra
Fred Hoekstra2 years ago

Thank you S. E. Smith, for Sharing this!

barbara kelly
Barbara kelly2 years ago

very informative article but it saddens me to be reminded that the priorities of this country are so distorted.

Dianne D.
Dianne D.2 years ago

Only a fraction of the population enjoys sports. This is just wrong. I stopped watching football when they let Michael Vick back in the NFL. I've since realized what a waste of time sports is and the money needs to go to places that benefits more people than just a few. If people would stop going to see sports or watching them on tv, then the salaries will come down.

Nonya B.
mike hankins2 years ago

@kay r. important people?lol

Kay Redmon
Kay Redmon2 years ago

The priorities are certainly wrong whe a sports coach earns more than Important people, ones who saves lives, save someone's home from burning down, teaching your children so the grow up with knowledge in their minds. Even helping animals who are caught up in a distressing situation. It's a shocking state of affairs when a coach, probably without any credentials, can earn more money. Sports are a big deal in the states, schools having college scholarships for excellent sportsman, but a total disaster in the school room. These people often have someone else do their homework & cheat on exams but are still applauded because of their sporting prowess. They are often illiterate, therefore after their sporting careers have finished so have they, unless of course they are kept on, eventually commentating sport. The poor Policeman, Firefighters, Teachers must find this disgusting & rightly so. Sports doesn't help anyone in any way. It just is entertainment & not always good....

Sonny Honrado
Sonny Honrado2 years ago

Good to know.

Serge Rogatch
Serge Rogatch2 years ago

The sooner this article is published, the sooner problems get solved. https://www.dropbox.com/sh/rrprol51gtw5v4f/PcdmvnUwqP/Science/Economics

Is the corresponding to the done to someone getting done to the culprits and the indifferent ones?

Jennifer C.
Past Member 2 years ago

Thank you.