In early 2019, the U.S. President signed a spending bill that approved a 1.9% raise for all government employees working on the GS pay scale. The United States Government pay scale determines the salary ranges for workers in most technical, administrative, clerical, and professional civilian positions. The transparency of the government job pay scale of 2019 enables job applicants to gain a clear idea of what they can expect to earn. 

Most years, the federal government assigns a system-wide cost-of-living pay increase for GS workers. The raise applies regardless of GS level and is meant to keep government salaries reasonably competitive with the private job sector. 

According to the federal Office of Personnel Management, the GS pay scale determines the pay for a large share of the 1.5 million U.S. government civilian workers worldwide. 

Compensation ranges are based on:

  • Technical demands of the job
  • Educational requirements
  • Level of responsibility
  • Employee qualifications

The numerous agencies within the government determine the GS level of pay that applies to their job positions. In addition to basic criteria, agencies may choose GS pay levels that make their positions competitive on the broader job market. 

Regional Differences in Federal Employee Pay Scale

The USA government pay scale recognizes that costs of living differ throughout the United States, its territories, and other foreign locales. Data analyzed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics guide the adjustments made to locality pay rates. The government has established 47 locality pay areas throughout the states and territories. 

Major metropolitan areas like Los Angeles or New York form 44 of the locality pay areas. Because of the locality pay rates, the same positions might pay somewhat different salaries in various areas of the country. Geographic areas that have trouble attracting qualified job candidates might gain approval for special rates that authorize higher salaries beyond standard pay ranges. 

What is your salary range?
When researching job opportunities, people can identify the exact salary ranges for specific localities by using this pay calculator.

The job seeker will need to pull the government GS level from the job posting and the location to enter the necessary information into the calculator. The calculator currently displays results for the federal GS pay scale 2019

What Does GS Mean in Government Jobs?

GS stands for General Schedule. This government employee pay scale designates the earnings for over 70% of federal civilian employees. Fifteen grades form the GS with GS-1 being the lowest paying grade and GS-15 being the highest paying grade. The GS grade for a job posting will be prominently displayed on job postings. 

Within each grade, the schedule assigns 10 steps. Every step represents a higher level of pay within the grade and equals roughly 3% of an employee’s pay. After a waiting period, workers could qualify for a higher step of pay within their grade as long as performance has been good. 

  • To ascend through steps 1, 2, and 3 requires waiting periods of 1 year between each increase. 
  • The waiting periods stretch to 2 years to achieve step increases between steps 4 and 6.
  • To gain raises for steps 7 through 9, the waiting period is 3 years. 

A worker generally needs to put in 18 years of service to progress through all 10 steps of a pay grade. Employees with outstanding performance reviews could have the opportunity to advance through the steps at a faster rate. 

Highly qualified job candidates might succeed at negotiating a job offer that starts their pay at a higher step within their pay grade. Outstanding credentials could help a person skip the lower pay steps from the beginning.

Government GS Levels

The lowest GS grades have the least educational or technical requirements. Every increase in GS grade raises the qualifications and educational credentials necessary to qualify for the job.

Starting at GS-5 federal level jobs, applicants will usually need a bachelor’s degree.

Positions at or above GS-9 grade level in the federal service will generally demand that applicants have a master’s degree or Ph.D. 


As the lowest level, jobs in this category don’t even require a high school diploma. In fact, they tend to be temporary positions held by interns or teenagers working summer jobs. Any full-time GS-1 positions that may exist would currently pay between $19,048 and $23,827

The hourly base pay of a Step 1 GS-1 employee is $9.13 per hour. The pay increases as employees gain more experience. However, if we’ll check the salary range on USAJOBS, it’ll vary depending on the state where you live.

GS GradeStep 1Step 2Step 3Step 4Step 5Step 6Step 7Step 8Step 9Step 10


A GS-2 job will require a high school diploma or at least 1 year of experience at a GS-1 equivalent job. If you have one of these requirements you can qualify for jobs at the GS 2 bypassing the lowest level. As each GS grade, the GS-2 level contains a series of 10 steps. Typically, new employees are hired at Step 1 of a grade. Basic salaries within the 10 steps will range from $21,417 to $26,952 for a full-time worker. 

GS GradeStep 1Step 2Step 3Step 4Step 5Step 6Step 7Step 8Step 9Step 10


Applicants need a high school diploma or at least 1 year of experience at the GS-2 level. When you have more months of general experience, you can qualify for the GS-3 as a start position. If we compare Military Rank to Civilian equivalency, the GS3 is tantamount to Airman First Class. GS 3 pay standard for full-time employees varies between $23,368 and $30,379

GS GradeStep 1Step 2Step 3Step 4Step 5Step 6Step 7Step 8Step 9Step 10


Recruiters for GS-4 positions will want to see applicants with associate’s degrees or at least 1 year of experience at the GS-3 equivalent level. Pay ranges are currently between $26,233 and $34,099

GS GradeStep 1Step 2Step 3Step 4Step 5Step 6Step 7Step 8Step 9Step 10


Jobs at this grade predominantly go to people with bachelor’s degrees although an associate’s degree with job experience could secure employment. The current salary range is $29,350 through $38,152


Qualified job candidates will have a bachelor’s degree or an associate’s degree with applicable experience. Salaries at this grade start at $32,716 and increase to $42,535


At the GS-7 level in the federal service, positions require bachelor’s degrees with at least 1 year of experience. Base salaries start between $36,356 and $47,264. 


This grade calls for bachelor’s degrees and at least 1 year of experience. Pay steps progress from $40,263 to $52,341


Recruiters will be looking for candidates with master’s degrees and at least 1 year of experience although candidates with bachelor’s degrees might get jobs at this grade level. Salaries range between $44,471 and $57,809

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Positions are reserved for candidates with master’s degrees and job experience. Pay steps start at $48,973 and finish at $63,661.


At the GS-11 grade level in the federal service, master’s degrees plus work experience are needed to apply for open positions. GS-11 employees earn roughly $53,805 to $69,951.


At the GS 12 grade level in the federal service, jobs are for people who hold a master’s degree or Ph.D. and have career experience. Employees at this level earn between $64,490 and $83,840


Job candidates will have career experience and a master’s degree or Ph.D. These positions pay salaries of $76,687 to $99,691.


Work experience along with a Ph.D. will qualify job seekers for GS-14 positions. Salaries start at $90,621 and go up to $117,810 at the highest pay step. 


These positions are for people who have the necessary work experience and a Ph.D. Salary steps start at $106,595 and rise to $138,572. The hourly pay of a GS-15 employee is $51.08 per hour.

The GS 15 pay scale also varies according to location. In the DC area, getting promoted to GS-13, 14 or 15 is far easier, because half the jobs are at those grades. The pay cap applying to this level employee in the upper steps is $164,200.

When people know the government pays a grade scale that they could qualify for, it could help them target jobs that they have the best chance of getting. The public nature of the government GS pay scale system grants people the ability to understand how their compensation could increase during a career.

resume writerDaniella Epstein

Daniella knows all ins and outs of the federal hiring process. She is excellent at job hunting strategies, starting from federal resume writing to the final stage of interview conduction.

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