Good news: salaries are increasing in California. In fact, the mean base salary and mean total compensation for security-cleared professionals increased more than any other state in the country. The growth is likely impacted by the rising defense budget, which favors drones, missiles, and bombers – the very type of aerospace products designed and manufactured in California. According to the Aerospace Industries Association, California alone made up 14.7% of the nation’s aerospace and defense workforce. This makes the Golden State one of the nation’s leaders in aerospace.

California: past, present, and future

If you look at the five-year employment growth rate (2012-2017), California actually saw a 3.8% decline. One factor is that, since the end of the Cold War, the number of aerospace jobs in California has been cut by more than half. What’s more, defense budget cuts under President Barack Obama are still being felt in the industry.

But as a result of today’s budget trends, that is clearly changing. Mean base salaries in the Golden State increased by 10%, making its mean base salary of $84,131 higher than the national mean base salary of $83,221. This is an impressive shift from last year when the mean base salary was $76,327 – compared to a national average of $76,987,

The White House is now budgeting more funds for the F/A 18, the F-35, and the MQ-1 Gray Eagle programs. In addition, California’s Silicon Valley is also poised to help the Department of Defense with advances in emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), deep image processing, and data science – some of the highest-paying cleared jobs in the tech sector. The total number of jobs supported by aerospace and defense in California last year was 354,010, with direct employment accounting for 95,090 jobs, and supply chain employment accounting for another 258,930 jobs.

Today, the average total compensation in California is $96,023 – an 11% increase over 2017. The only bad news is that this salary – which is still lower compared to East Coast counterparts – won’t go as far due to the very high cost of living. The median home price in California is a staggering $537,315 (versus $184,112 in Texas), while the median price for rent is $2,675.

California Salaries by clearance level

California has the greatest overall salary growth in the nation for security-cleared professionals. This year, the mean base pay increased more than 10% and mean total compensation increased nearly 11%. According to the 2018 ClearanceJobs Compensation survey, total compensation for all surveyed security-cleared professionals nationwide is $93,004  – that’s slightly below California’s average of $96,023. As one might expect, compensation varies considerably based on an employee’s clearance level. Except for one, every clearance level showed impressive growth in base pay from last year.

Likewise, salaries differ considerably based on the presence and level of the polygraph examination. Not surprisingly, employees with counterintelligence poly examinations commanded the highest base salaries.

As for salaries based on career level, executives saw a 13% increase in mean base pay, whereas mid-level career professionals saw a 19% increase in mean base pay and total compensation. Senior level career professionals saw a 10% increase in mean base pay and a 12% rise in mean total compensation.

Aerospace Jobs in the Golden State

The most populous state in the United States also has the largest economy of any state in the U.S. In fact, if California were its own nation, it would be the fifth largest economy in the world. California is also quick to claim that it’s the supreme technology hub of the world for both aerospace and cyber technology.

While California may have seen a small decline in total aerospace and defense employment in recent years, the Golden State is seeing a turnaround. This past January, the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp. (LAEDC) announced that more than 5,000 new aerospace jobs had been added in Southern California over the past three years – exceeding industry forecasts.

Much of the growth was in the South Bay and Westside communities, as Boeing has increased satellite product in El Segundo, SpaceX is ramping up in Hawthorne, and Northrop Grumman recently completed construction on a successor to the Hubble Space Telescope.

According to the LAEDC, more than 90,000 people were directly employed by aerospace companies in Southern California, compared to 85,500 in 2014. But an additional 268,100 jobs were supported by the industry last year – an increase of over 22,000 jobs from 2014.

The upward trend in job growth has continued into the summer. In August Northrop Grumman also announced that its Astro Aerospace business has opened a new manufacturing center in Ventura County, California. This center will house the production of satellite structures and other space-based hardware. The 140,000-square-foot facility in Oxnard is expected to add as many as 300 new jobs and support the development of deployable technology, such as boom and mast subsystems, mesh reflectors, solar arrays, antennas, and planar structures.

Beyond aerospace, California has plenty of other opportunities for the cleared worker. Silicon Valley remains one of the largest tech centers in the country, and Sunnyvale is home to the U.S. military’s missile industry. Much farther to the south San Diego is the home port of the Pacific Fleet, the largest fleet command in the world with 48,000 military and civilian personnel.

All this makes California the Golden State of opportunity for security-cleared workers.



This article is one in a series based on the 2018 ClearanceJobs Compensation Survey. This survey was administered online between October 30, 2017 and February 9, 2018. Participants had to have a current, active federal security clearance and be currently employed to be included in the results, which included 20,883 usable responses.




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Peter Suciu is a freelance writer who covers business technology and cyber security. He currently lives in Michigan and can be reached at