Who Earns the Average US Wage?

What do you think most people earn per year in the US? $35,000, $40,000, even $50,000? As the economy has gone up and down, many folks wonder what the average salary for Americans is these days. There are many ways to approach the answer, but they all point to about the same range: $40,000 to $50,000, annually.

First, keep in mind that to get to a number that isn’t skewed by the very wealthy or very poor, the median wage, not the average (also called the mean), is the best calculation to use. The median wage is the number above which 50 percent of workers earn and below which the other 50 percent earn. “The average has the problem of Bill Gates and other billionaires. One Bill Gates pulls the average up by $50, but that is not money in anyone's pocket but Bill's,” says Al Lee, director of quantitative analysis at online salary and career site PayScale.com.

Online salary database and career site PayScale.com approached this calculation by using data only from full-time workers over the age of 25, regardless of education level, and excluded those who are in business for themselves, retired, work part-time or are still in college. So, for full-time, employed adults, the median salary for an individual is $50,900 per year.

Which jobs pay near the typical national wage?

High School Teacher ($43,100). To help shape America’s next generation of leaders, you must have at least a bachelor’s degree, as well as be licensed in the state where you will be teaching. Private school teachers don’t always need a license and topics with the most openings for work are in math, the sciences and bi-lingual education, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Construction Foreman ($41,500). A Construction foreman supervises the crews that build roads, bridges, buildings and other structures. They can get an associate’s degree and learn on the job, though a bachelor’s degree in a construction-related field helps even more with job prospects and has become common.

Police Officer ($47,800). Depending on the department’s requirements, police officers need to have a high school diploma or a higher degree and have graduated from a law enforcement academy. Police work is dangerous and seldom as glamorous as what we see on TV.

Retail Store Manager ($39,400). Here is a job where experience goes a long way toward getting hired, though a college degree will certainly improve your employment options. You can expect long hours on weekends and in the evenings, and plenty of time making sure that your customers, and your employees, are happy.

Occupational Therapy Assistant ($50,700). Occupational therapy assistants (OTA) work with occupational therapists to help clients who have been injured or are otherwise disabled learn how to perform everyday functions. You need an associate’s degree to become an OTA, unlike occupational therapy aides who learn on the job. Most states require licensing, certification or registration. Opportunities in this field are expected to grow.

Staff Accountant ($45,100). Accountants typically have 4-year degrees in accounting or a related field. Opportunities in this field are expected to grow as interest in financial review and regulation grows. Graphic Designer, Web ($45,900). Graphic designers for the web figure out the best way to get a company or organization’s message across with web page color, graphics and layout. A bachelor’s degree in design is typical, though word-of-mouth and portfolio quality also count in this profession.

Respiratory Therapist ($46,100). Respiratory therapists evaluate and treat patients for respiratory and cardiopulmonary disorders. They can work with all ages, from premature babies to elderly patients. An associate’s degree, as well as licensure and certification in nearly all states, is required to get started.

Source: All salary data is from PayScale.com. The salaries listed are median, annual salaries for full-time workers in the United States with 5-8 years of experience and include any bonuses, commissions or profit sharing. Actual pay may vary by location and a number of other factors. To get a more specific salary report taking into account your job and background, take the PayScale survey.
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