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The 25 Best Paying Careers.. and the Worst


Forbes announced its annual list of the 25 best paying careers and the worst. Forbes drew info from the U.S. government's National, State and Metropolitan Area Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates. This 2006 data was based on a national survey of employers of various sizes, industries and occupations.

I am very familiar with these government estimates. The government does a great job with the broad forces at work (macro economics) in employment and compensation. It is a little funny that Forbes uses the government defined occupations, because the sizes of the ~800 occupations vary widely. For example, both Mine Shuttle Car Operators with 3,000 workers nation-wide and Sales Representatives with 1.5 million are "occupations".

Not surprisingly, top paying jobs in the medical field dominate the list of careers. According to Forbes, anesthesiologists had a salary increase of 5.8%. If we take a look at our PayScale research center, anesthesiologist salaries in major cities are north of $200,000; not bad for knocking someone out.

What about the worst paying jobs? Food preparation and serving workers top that lowly list of careers. According to Forbes, there was a 2.4% increase in these salaries, bringing the average salary of a food preparation and serving worker up to $15,930.

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Top Paying Jobs in The Medical Field

Health care salaries are going strong with surgeons, dentists, and obstetricians all near the top. Orthodontists make big bucks for fitting people with braces. Some may be surprised how high salary goes for orthodontists. I am not, having paid for braces for my children 🙂 The average salary for orthodontists in major cities can be more than $200,000/year; that should put a smile on their faces!

Forbes did a good job in the article explaining the caveats with the government data. This survey, like PayScale’s, is about employees: that is, workers who draw an hourly wage or annual salary. As I have discussed before, while some surgeons draw a salary at a hospital, many are like small business owners, and are not included in the government survey.

Highest Paying Jobs with Less Schooling

For those who would rather skip medical school, or a higher education entirely, there is the option of working as an air traffic controller. These airway traffic cops saw their salary increase 4.2%. The average salary in metropolitan airports for air traffic controllers ranges from $48,000 to $92,000.

Another high paying vocation, which does not require a college diploma (though one is handy), is a computer and information systems manager. These computer whizzes saw an increase in salary of 4.8%. According to the PayScale research center, an information systems manager typically earn between $60,000 and $75,000 depending on the state, though pay varies widely with experience, specific skills, etc. Use the PayScale salary calculator to investigate further.

Worst Average Salary: Fast Food Salaries

On the other end of the Forbes article are the jobs with the worst pay. Most are fast food salaries. Fast food cooks, who often work over a flame grill while wearing a paper hat (sounds a bit dangerous!), typically earn a hourly wage of $6.00 to $7.50. The variation by state largely tracks the minimum wage laws, according to the PayScale research center.

A host or hostess job in a restaurant might sound better, but pay-wise it is not much of an improvement. A host or hostess earns an average wage of $7.50 to $9.00 per hour, though this does not include his or her cut of the tips. Rounding out the bottom of the salary scale are child care workers. According to the PayScale research center, the average wage of a child care worker is between $7.50 and $10.00 an hour, depending on the state.

How does your salary compare to a child care worker’s pay? The PayScale Salary Calculator is a quick and easy way to compare positions. When you want powerful salary data and comparisons customized for your exact position, be sure to build a complete profile by taking PayScale’s full salary survey.


Dr. Al Lee

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