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Five Jobs For People Who Like Money and Five Jobs For People Who Don’t

This article was written by in Career and Work. 11 comments.


There are many people who believe that the when choosing a career path and life direction, one should steer towards the highest paying career for which they could possibly qualify after several years of education, training, and 80-hour work weeks. To demonstrate, there is never a shortage of investment bankers looking for work. I have an alternate point of view: self-fulfillment usually has little to do with career choice or money earned, but having money (that is, not spending money) opens doors for more choices (for spending money among other things).

Did potential earning power play a role in your decision to pursue a career path? Let us know in the comments.

While I cite investment banking as a high-earning job, it’s not the highest according to data compiled by the government’s Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates from 2008 and published recently. If you are in search of the almighty dollar, it pays to go to medical school.

Surgeons top the list with an average annual salary of $206,770, up 8% since last year. Following surgeons, the next highest earners on average are anesthesiologists with $197,570 each year. Third on the list are orthodontists, who earn an annual $194,930 on average. Obstetrician and gynecologists earn $192,780. Oral and maxillofacial surgeons round out the list with an average annual income of $190,420.

I would have expected higher salaries for these jobs on the coasts, as many cost-of-living calculators adjust for high salaries in New York and Los Angeles. According to the survey, however, if you want to earn more money in these jobs it pays to move to the mid-west. Surgeons and obstetrician and gynecologists earn more in Wisconsin than in any other state. New Hampshire, the lone east coast representative, is lucrative for orthodontists, and oral surgeons do best in Michigan.

On the other side of the spectrum are the jobs that do not command high salaries. In fact, these jobs usually feature hourly wages and are often not full-time. They probably should not be compared with the other careers since they are in a class of their own.

The lowest earning job is the combination of food preparer and server, including the fast food industry. A worker in this job will expect to earn on average $17,400. Fast food cooks do slightly better with $17,620. The next rung on the income ladder contains dishwashers (of the human, not machine, sort) who earn an annual $17,750. If you are a dining room or cafeteria attendant or a bartender helper, your income averages $18,140. Shampooers deserve bragging rights among the low-paid with their annual pay of $18,300.

Of these top worst-paying jobs, you’ll do better by moving to Washington, D.C. Shampooers, fast food workers, and food preparers and servers earn the most there. Dishwashers earn more in Nevada, and dining room or cafeteria attendants, or bartender helpers maximize their income in Hawaii.

Did potential earning power play a role in your decision to pursue a career path?

Published or updated May 12, 2009. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes, also known as Flexo, is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about him and follow Luke Landes on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Sonny

When deciding my career field, I first looked at my interests and then I looked at the money. I love my work but I am not thrilled with the money in my career field so I am working on getting my MBA to hopefully improve my earnings in the future. We’ll see how much it helps!

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avatar guinness416

What’s a “bartender helper”, a bar back? I wonder if that includes tips. Actually some of the other low end jobs are tipped out too, I think.

If I told you my job title you wouldn’t know what the hell I do, but I’ve generally had three or four job offers at any one time because nobody in North America studies my profession. We’re a bunch of Aussies, Brits, Paddies and Asians. I’d love to see a list of “well kept secret jobs” like that.

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avatar Twiggers

When I started college it was all about the money. I was miserable in the pre-med classes and thrived in my psych classes. I just finished a PhD in psychology and am going out on a low paying post-doctoral research position. Eventually I hope to end up as a tenure-track professor….the pay sucks, but I LOVE what I do! I haven’t looked at a clock during the day in years!

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avatar Anca

I chose engineering because I wanted to know I’d be able to pay bills once I graduated. I think there’s a huge disconnect between the working world and helping young people decide what they want to do with their lives. If people want college to be “for learning” that’s fine, but there needs to be a smoother transition into the real world.

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avatar Mike

Your #s make sense. I am a physician that trained in Ohio and now practice in beautiful San Diego, CA. Along with the higher cost of living comes a drop in salary. The “Sun Tax” applies because there are more people willing to do just about any job in a desirable place to live. There are rural towns in the middle of nowhere with few physicians that are willing to pay a significant premium to attract them to move and stay. I assumed this logic applies to most fields with supply and demand issues, not just medicine.

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avatar Green

Remember that the numbers presented are wages and do not include things like tips, bonuses stock options, etc. Also, benefits like insurance, vacation time, continuing education, free parking, etc. are quite valuable. Make sure you look at total compensation and not just a wage/salary when considering a job.

For example: While a physician may have a high wage and great health benefits they rarely get significant bonuses.

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avatar T

Good point. In addition, it’s not clear whether malpractice insurance has already been subtracted out of the physicians’ salaries – my bet, given how high OB/Gyn’s are on the list, is no. That can make a HUGE difference.

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avatar Kate

My career choice was informed by quality of life more than anything else. For me that meant : a realistic 40 hour work week, a job that felt ethically & intellectually rewarding, a paycheck that allowed me to live decently (but not excessively). After working in a consulting job that paid very well, but expected me to work very long hours and to be in contact on days off, I decided to go back to get an advanced degree so that I could work as a librarian.

While I take home far less in pay (and increased my student loan debt), I am considerably happier every day as I love my job while I’m there and don’t think much about it when I’m not. I actually have a life outside of work now. And because I’m happier I actually can live without a lot of extras in my life. I spend far less than I did when I made much more money.

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avatar TStrump

The only reason why I studied business in College and am now an accountant, was because of the money.
I had that idea hammered into my head when I was young – go to school to get a job with the best salary.
As I approach 40, I’m trying to move into things I love or am passionate about.
I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I just pursued what I loved in my 20′s – I can tell you, accounting wouldn’t be it.

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avatar T2

I’ve been in sales my whole career. The only reason I got into it was that was my first job out of college with a business degree. Now I’m stuck in it and at 34 I realize I hate selling. What to do?

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avatar TtT

I just graduated as an RN; demand, salary, and interest directed my choices here. While I don’t have a job yet, I have experience in the ‘lowest’ paying jobs. I made 52k+ a year as a professional server in a 4 diamond resort. now i’m wondering if a ‘real’ job is going to be able to match that.

Numbers, numbers, numbers.

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