Making a Living in Governmental Public Health: Variation in Earnings by Employee Characteristics and Work Setting

Katie Sellers, Jonathon P. Leider, Kyle Bogaert, Jennifer D. Allen, Brian C. Castrucci

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Context: This article examines factors related to earnings in the context of the governmental public health system's urgent need to recruit and retain trained public health workers as many in the existing workforce move toward retirement. Methods: This article characterizes annualized earnings from state and local public health practitioners in 2017, using data from the 2017 Public Health Workforce Interests and Needs Survey (PH WINS), which was fielded in fall/winter 2017 to more than 100 000 state and local public health practitioners in the United States. The response consisted of 47 604 public health workers for a response rate of 48%. We performed descriptive statistics, bivariate analyses, and interval-based regression techniques to explore relationships between annualized earnings, supervisory status, gender, years of experience, highest degree (and whether it was a public health degree), job classification, race/ethnicity, union/bargaining unit, paid as salary or hourly wage, setting, and region. Results: Higher supervisory status, higher educational attainment, white non-Hispanic race/ethnicity, male gender, salaried employment, bargaining unit (labor union) position, certain geographic regions, having a clinical/laboratory/other scientific position, and working in either a state health agency (SHA) or a large local health department (LHD) setting are all associated with higher salary. Having a public health degree versus a degree in another area did not appear to increase earnings. Being a person of color was associated with earning $4000 less annually than white peers (P <.001), all else being equal. The overall regression model showed a gender wage gap of about $3000 for women (P =.018). Supervisors, clinical and laboratory staff, public health sciences staff, and union staff also earned more than their counterparts. Discussion: As multiple factors continue to shape the public health workforce, including increasing racial/ethnic diversity, continued retirements of baby boomers, and the growth of bachelor's-level public health education, researchers should continue to monitor the gender and racial/ethnic pay gaps. This information should help the field of governmental public health as it endeavors to rebuild its capacity while current workers, many at the highest level of leadership, move on to retirement or other jobs. Public health leaders must prioritize equitable pay across gender and race/ethnicity within their own departments as they build their organizations' capacity to achieve health equity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)S87-S95
JournalJournal of Public Health Management and Practice
StatePublished - Jan 1 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Author Affiliations: de Beaumont Foundation, Bethesda, Maryland (Drs Sellers and Castrucci); Division of Health Policy & Management, School of Public Health, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota (Dr Leider); Workforce Research, Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO), Arlington, Virginia (Ms Bogaert); and Department of Community Health, Tufts University, Medford, Massachusetts (Dr Allen). The Public Health Workforce Interests and Needs Survey (PH WINS) was funded by the de Beaumont Foundation. The authors declare no conflicts of interest. Supplemental digital content is available for this article. Direct URL citations appear in the printed text and are provided in the HTML and PDF versions of this article on the journal’s Web site (http:// This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-No Derivatives License 4.0 (CCBY-NC-ND), where it is permissible to download and share the work provided it is properly cited. The work cannot be changed in any way or used commercially without permission from the journal. Correspondence: Katie Sellers, DrPH, CPH, de Beaumont Foundation, 7501 Wisconsin, Ste 1310 E, Bethesda, MD 20814 ( Copyright © 2019 The Authors. Published by Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. All rights reserved.


  • public health departments
  • salary
  • workforce


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