California police officer and firefighter pay

Here’s a fun database application with a web interface:

For young people who have been listening to politicians braying about the importance of STEM:


18 thoughts on “California police officer and firefighter pay

  1. I’m flabbergasted that a fireman is deemed worthy of a nearly half million dollar pay package annually.
    Are there a shortage of firemen in California? Is there something that makes their training more costly?

  2. Not sure what total pay & benefits means, but workers comp, healthcare taxes, FICA taxes, could make the total 4x their regular pay. $130,000 in silicon valley is poverty. If they have a 12 hour shift, they would have to sleep in autonomous cars to commute to where $130,000 would afford an apartment or put up with marriage laws.

  3. In 1983, at 20 years old I was studying for my Computer Science degree at a well-respected Boston-area university. As a back-up plan, I took my Boston suburb’s firefighter test. I scored quite well and was offered a job at the rookie firefighter wage of $8 per hour. I turned it down because I was a college-boy and my degree was going to catapult me to the executive suite in short order. Well, the high school grads that took that test with me and that were smart enough to give up their manual labor jobs and accept the firefighter job all retired in their mid-40s living on $50K+ per year lifetime pensions. Due to a couple of layoffs and blown opportunities, the “Great Recession,” H-1B immigration, and crushing competition, I’m still working in my mid-50s earning exactly what I earned in 1998.

  4. These pension systems, both public and private, are all insolvent and will not pay out in full. It worked out great as a recipient if you’re about to keel over approximately now. But going forward the arithmetic makes collecting on these promises impossible.

  5. @bobbybobbob: These pension systems, both public and private, are all insolvent and will not pay out in full.

    You’re probably correct. In the past couple of years, there were a couple of struggling cities that were able to give a haircut to existing pensioners. Every legislative session, the Republican-dominated FL legislature tries to peck away at the state’s defined benefit pension plan. In 2008, they increased vesting to 8 years, eliminated COLA, and raised employee contribution to 3% of wages.

    The police and fire pensions were affected too but still offer an overly lucrative 75% benefit after 25 years of service, though they do usually pay 8% to 10% of their wages into the plan, and OT was cut back as consideration toward pension benefit.

  6. Mark – there is no shortage of firefighters in California. Thousands of people apply for each open position. Like any other union job, it’s an ol’ boys club. Current firefighters are responsible for selecting, hiring and training new firefighters. Therefore, there’s a manufactured scarcity of “qualified candidates” in order to justify the absurd pay people volunteer for in in other parts of the country(east coast).

    Philg – if you think firefighter and police pay is rigged, you should look into longshoreman. It’s nearly impossible to get an apprenticeship these jobs are so coveted. There are lotteries for what few openings there are. Once you get a slot and complete your training, you have to pay your dues by being an on-call , “casual” worker, working part-time for about 10 years before you get hired into the union. These guys are making $100k-$200k for lashing down containers, driving trucks, forklifts and operating cranes or doing clerical work.

  7. Exceptions for bursty work aside, firemen sleep on the job, so long shifts have no sleep implications.

  8. In this day of cell phones, why do all firefighters need to sleep at the station? Doctors who are on call do not sleep at the hospital. Traditions (even expensive traditions) die hard.

  9. I just had our house saved last week by the quick, efficient actions of our local fire departments. I’m no longer inclined to complain about what they’re charging the taxpayers.

  10. I would suggest the disparity between police, fireman, etc. and STEM related positions is at in part to the fact that few programmers remain in city/state positions but firemen, police officers etc. have few options outside of city/state. This of course doesn’t account for some of the overblown salaries listed but you’re not allowed to question the salaries or benefits of those brave heroes.

  11. As usual, you’ve managed to find a source that lists the “extreme” amounts that very few individuals make.

    Yes, California firefighters, police officers…and even longshoremen are well paid.

    So what? Is everyone supposed to be in a race to reach the bottom of the pay scale? Just because someone holds a college degree, does that automatically entitle them to earn more than non-educated workers? Because someone has sat for a few years in a class room fulfilling some obsolete college requirement courses, they get to make more money than a person who has risked his life in a fire, or even the hold of a ship?

    Good god, man. Should a computer programmer really be paid more that a police officer on the streets?

    Maybe it’s time to quit insisting that college is the only path to a better job, and expose it for what it really is…a system every bit as gamed as city government employees’ jobs. A system that forces an average student to rack up years of debt before he even enters the job market.

    Get real, dude. We should all be aspiring to be well paid employees instead of “wishing” those with decent paying jobs should be paid less.

  12. Jim: I would agree with you that the typical young person would be well-advised to avoid college and get a government job, such as in a police or fire department (the desk jobs can pay just as much and don’t require taking any risk). See also (“California Prison Academy: Better Than a Harvard Degree”)

    The original posting doesn’t express any opinion about whether these folks are overpaid or underpaid. As government salaries are not subject to market forces but are instead set by central planners, I don’t think it makes sense to talk about what someone “should” be paid. By definition the pay of a government worker is appropriate because that’s how a government bureaucrat set it.

    How does the pay compare to alternatives in the private sector? says that 13,000 people applied for 70 jobs as firefighters in Los Angeles (happily it turned out that 25 percent of the best qualified candidates were relatives of existing firefighters). says that “Tens of thousands apply for about 100 recruit positions” at the San Francisco Fire Department.

  13. I know you didn’t express an opinion about pay, but you seem obsessed with union and government workers who make larger salaries than college educated folks…why else would you research & post links? Just for our information?

    I just don’t get the anger towards these folks that make a high salary. Thank God there’s still some great, high-paying jobs that highlight the damage many corporations have done to their employees with lowering wages and cutting benefits.

    To hear some folks talk, they’d be happy if everyone was paid like the “right to work” states in the backwards-ass South, where obesity is epidemic because all they can afford to eat is junk off the dollar menu at McDonalds.

    By all means, let’s pay police and fire fighters minimum wage and then sit back and watch the kind of employee they attract.

    A janitor that makes 150K. Sign me up.

  14. Jim: Why does state government worker pay matter? And why shouldn’t everyone be happy if all government workers are bumped up to a $5 million/year salary? (if higher pay is always better, why stop at $160k or $270k for a janitor?) Unlike the federal government, states can’t print money. So if government worker pay is vastly higher than private sector pay you end up with municipal bankruptcies like Detroit, Stockton (CA), Mammoth Lakes (CA), and San Bernardino (CA). So far judges have protected retired government worker pensions, which means that muni bond holders get stiffed. Investors thus need to pay attention to what cities and states are paying. See : “Until we get clarification from federal appellate courts, we have to conclude a municipality’s general fund obligations are structurally subordinated to their pension liabilities,” said Tom McLoughlin, head of municipal fixed-income at UBS Wealth Management Americas in New York. Under the bankruptcy code, a municipality “has more latitude to treat creditors in a disparate fashion than you’d see in a typical corporate reorganization,” he added.

    People deciding whether or not to buy a house need to look at these numbers. After bondholders are stiffed, if government worker pay and pension are guaranteed, the only place for a city to get the money is from raising property taxes. (In Detroit, the value of many houses went to zero.) See , which says “It also has the highest property tax rates of any big city” (this is two years after the bankruptcy filing that wiped out investors who had lent the city money via purchasing bonds)

    And, as you point out and I agreed with, young people should be aware that they can expect to make more money working for the government than by choosing a private sector career (but maybe they don’t need these numbers, since Hillary Clinton shows how to make $1+ billion from a career in public service!).

  15. philg: I can’t believe you forgot to point out that even with highly progressive income taxes much of the funding for those high salaries will come from people making a lot less. Is it really fair to tax many janitors making $40K in order to pay one lucky janitor 270K.

  16. Phil, certainly you have a point. But things definitely won’t improve if everyone is being paid poverty wages. In Detroit, their downfall can be directly related to outsourcing jobs from the auto industry.

    The problem is the outrageous salaries CEOs are paid, while the rest of us fight for the scraps. This is why you still need unions.

  17. Jim: Even if “things [in general] definitely won’t improve,” things can improve a lot for an individual. Someone could have looked at public employee salaries and pension commitments in Detroit and said “I think I’ll rent rather than buy” and “I think I’ll buy bonds issued by the Dutch government, where pensions are fully funded, instead of by the Detroit government.” Similarly, a young person could have improved his or her lot by saying “Instead of going to work for a car company I will become a schoolteacher.”

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