Many American workers struggled to make ends meet in 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic reshaped the U.S. economy. About 22 million workers lost their jobs at the beginning of the pandemic, and by December 2020, there were still 10 million fewer jobs than before COVID-19 hit. The brunt of job losses fell on lower-income workers, as they were more likely to have their hours cut or lose their jobs altogether compared to higher-income workers.
Nationwide, the median earnings across all jobs in 2020 was $984 per week, or $51,168 for the year. Yet there are dozens of jobs in which most workers earned weekly wages that translate to less than $32,000 that year.
To identify the lowest-paying job in America 24/7 Wall St. reviewed data on median weekly wage for over 500 detailed occupations from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Current Population Survey program.
Many of the lowest-paying jobs in America are in the service industry. These jobs have long paid relatively low wages as they typically do not require any kind of career experience or formal education. There is a strong correlation between education and income, and nearly all the lowest-paying jobs require little to no education, while the majority of the highest-paying jobs in the country generally require at least a bachelor’s degree, though there are a few exceptions.
Of the 25 lowest-paying jobs we examined to find the one with the worst pay, 17 have majority-female workforces. Women are often steered into lower-wage occupations, like home health aides or childcare workers, because of factors like traditional gender roles and parental status. Women still tend to earn less money than men, even if they work the same job.
Fast-food and counter workers have the lowest pay job in America with median annual earnings of $24,336. The total number of workers in these jobs in 2020 was 231,000. The projected employment change from 2019 to 2029 is 11.4%. That is nearly three times faster than the typical job. The number of fast-food and counter workers with a bachelor’s degree totals 15.2%
Fast-food and counter workers take orders and serve food at fast-food establishments. These workers earn less than any other workers in America, with a median annual earnings of $24,366. No other occupation has a median below $26,000. These workers are among the youngest in the country, with a median age of 22.4 years. That is more than 20 years younger than the median age among all occupations.
Many fast-food workers may be in their first jobs, as the occupation is one of the most widely available and does not require any special training or education.
To identify the lowest-paying job in America, occupations were ranked based on median annual wage (the median weekly wage multiplied by 52 weeks) in 2020. Median earnings by gender and total employment by occupation also came from the BLS Current Population Survey. Data on projected employment change from 2019 to 2029, educational attainment by occupation in 2019, and typical education requirements by occupation came from the BLS Employment Projections program. Jobs sorted into miscellaneous categories were not considered. For some jobs, the BLS either did not collect data or opted not to publish data that did not meet the bureau’s collection criteria.