Special Report

The Easiest (and Hardest) Jobs to Keep

7. Structural iron and steel workers
> Unemployment rate, 2014: 14.9%
> Median annual pay, 2012: $46,140
> Employment change, 2012-2022: 21.8%

While structural iron and steel workers do not make considerably more than most Americans, they tend to make more than most workers in professions with high unemployment rates. Laborers in the profession usually work on large commercial construction projects and perform often risky and physically demanding work. The median income among such workers was $46,140 in 2012. The relatively high pay is likely compensation for the job hazards, as muscle strains, cuts, and even deaths are not uncommon. Also, while nearly 15% of iron and steel workers were unemployed last year, the profession is expected to grow by nearly 22% between 2012 and 2022, much faster than the average across all occupations. Aging infrastructure, which will likely be repaired using state funds, is a major driver of the growth, according to the BLS.

6. Refuse and recyclable material collectors
> Unemployment rate, 2014: 15.6%
> Median annual pay, 2012: $32,930
> Employment change, 2012-2022: 16.2%

According to a 2009 study by the Environmental Protection Agency, overall waste generation has increased substantially, and recycling has become increasingly more common. Perhaps as a result, jobs for refuse and recyclable collectors are expected to grow 16.2% by 2022, one of the highest growth rates of any occupation. The supply of workers, however, still far exceeded available jobs, as 15.6% of workers in the profession were unemployed last year. Among those who were employed, the median income was $32,930 in 2012. While becoming a material collectors typically requires a high school diploma or less, they often need to be certified to handle heavy equipment such as garbage trucks.

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5. Insulation workers
> Unemployment rate, 2014: 17.5%
> Median annual pay, 2012: $35,940
> Employment change, 2012-2022: 37.6%

Similar to a number of other construction trades, employment among insulation workers is expected to grow substantially in coming years. By 2022, the BLS expects the profession to grow by nearly 38%, more than all but three other occupations reviewed. Insulation workers were not paid high incomes relative to most Americans. However, the median annual incomes of nearly $36,000 among such workers in 2012 was higher than wages in most other professions with high unemployment rates. The hazards of insulation work can be largely avoided, but the job is more dangerous than many other professions, which may account in part for the slightly higher wages.