Iowa's $500K club: Record number of state employees earn a half-million dollars or more annually

Jason Clayworth
The Des Moines Register

A record 83 employees in Iowa’s state government are now paid $500,000 or more a year — roughly 12 times as many as a decade ago.

And Iowa's governor fell farther down the list of highest paid state employees, with 2,666 workers making more than Gov. Kim Reynolds’ annual salary of $130,000.

Ten years ago, seven state employees made $500,000 or more and 1,282 were paid more than the governor.

The highest salaries in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2017, were once again university coaches, athletic directors and medical doctors or executives at the University of Iowa.  

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz walks off the field with his players after their Spring Game on Friday, April 21, 2017, in Iowa City.

University of Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz again topped the list, earning $5.075 million. That was an 83 percent increase compared with 10 years ago, when he held the same job and also topped the state’s payroll.


Overall, the median salary for state workers increased 37 percent over the past decade from $38,234 to $52,378, according to the state’s latest salary database for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2017.

That’s in line with the statewide median family income, which since 2007 increased 41 percent to $69,419 in 2016, according to the most recent information from the U.S. Census Bureau.

The issue of large salaries growing faster than a typical rank-and-file employee is one that has made national headlines in recent years.


The American middle class has lost so much ground in a 14-year span that it might no longer be the economic majority in the United States, according to a 2016 study from the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan group based in Washington, D.C.

But the increases in the salaries of top earners of Iowa's state government is far less severe than on the national level, said Iowa State University Economist Dave Swenson.

And he noted that inflation adjustments mean the $500,000 and $130,000 levels today are equivalent to the "buying power" of $432,400 and $112,400, respectively, in 2007.

"Though there has been an increase in the number of higher-end earners, the problem of income concentration across society at large is much more acute than the distribution of incomes paid in Iowa," said Swenson, a 36-year state government employee who makes almost $36,000 less than the governor.

"The range between the lowest paid and the top paid is much, much tighter than we see in the rest of the economy."

​​​​​​Top fiscal year 2017 public salaries

  1. Kirk Ferentz, head football coach, University of Iowa, $5,075,000
  2. Fran McCaffery, head basketball coach, University of Iowa, $1,787,500
  3. Steve Prohm, head basketball coach, Iowa State University, $1,675,000
  4. Matthew Campbell, head football coach, Iowa State University, $1,250,000
  5. Gary Barta, athletics director, University of Iowa, $1,177,265
  6. Ken Kates, associate vice president and CEO of UI Hospitals and Clinics, University of Iowa, $1,049,869
  7. Matthew Bollier, clinical assistant professor and medical doctor, University of Iowa, $1,023,840
  8. Jean Robillard, vice president for medical affairs and dean, University of Iowa, $983,930
  9. Jane Meyer*, former associate athletics director, University of Iowa, $946,808
  10. Alan Reed, professor and medical doctor, University of Iowa, $881,412

*Meyer was terminated in September 2016. A jury awarded her $1.43 million in May 2017 after she sued the university for sexual discrimination. Her salary is related to settlement wages plus what she earned before her dismissal in the fiscal year that began July 1, 2016.

Source: State of Iowa