Wages in the United States have recently hit their highest rate of growth since the end of the Great Recession in 2009. The 3.1% increase from 2017 to 2018 is a good sign for the American economy. But the effects are not being felt evenly. millions of working Americans are earning less than $30,000 each year.
Typically, unskilled jobs — such as those in the food or customer service industries — do not pay well. Though these are often important jobs, workers can be easily replaced, whether by another unskilled worker or by automation. This drives down these jobs’ potential earnings.
24/7 Wall St. reviewed the latest job market data from the U.S. Labor Department to determine America’s 25 lowest paying jobs.
Of the 25 lowest paying jobs, 18 are primarily held by women. According to a report by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, women make up 83% of middle skill workers who earn $30,000 or less annually and 55% of all middle skill workers, but only 36% of jobs that pay $35,000 or more. Middle-skill jobs are those that require skills and experience beyond a high school diploma — like a certification — but less than a bachelor’s degree. These jobs include those in transportation, food preparation, and packaging. According to IWPR, “The divide between men and women in middle-skill jobs is due, in part, to conventional wisdom about occupations and gender roles.” Women are also likely to be paid less than their male counterparts in the same job. There is no job in the U.S. in which women’s median annual earnings exceed $100,000.
To identify the lowest paying jobs in America, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed 2018 median weekly earnings for full-time wage and salary workers by detailed occupation from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The number of workers employed in each occupation was also obtained from the BLS. The estimated yearly earnings for each occupation was calculated from the median weekly earnings figures.
25. Misc. agricultural workers
> 2018 median annual earnings: $28,704
> Total workers: 641,000
The category of miscellaneous agricultural workers includes workers who help farmers grow crops and tend to their livestock. The job requires physical labor and, often, heavy machinery operation. The job does not typically have any formal education requirements. Over the next decade, the number of workers in this occupation will not likely change very much from current levels.
> 2018 median annual earnings: $28,548
> Total workers: 151,000
Unlike many of the lowest paying jobs in America, bakers are often required to have some additional education beyond high school, such as an apprenticeship or culinary school education. Still, many bakers learn their trade through extensive on-the-job training over a long period, rather than in a classroom. Employment of bakers is projected to grow about 8% by 2026, roughly in line with the average American job.
23. Hairdressers, hairstylists, and cosmetologists
> 2018 median annual earnings: $28,340
> Total workers: 309,000
Though all 50 states require that barbers and cosmetologists obtain a license to work in that state, the profession is one of the lowest paying in the country, with median annual earnings of $28,340. Hair care is a necessary service for most people, so as the population grows, so will employment in the field. Cosmetology employment is projected to grow 13% over the next decade, well ahead of the average job projected growth rate.
22. Cleaners of vehicles and equipment
> 2018 median annual earnings: $27,976
> Total workers: 232,000
Vehicle and equipment cleaners are often employed by automotive care shops and car dealerships. The job, which has no educational requirements, is one of very few jobs in the United States in which the typical worker makes less than $28,000 per year.
21. Packaging and filling machine operators and tenders
> 2018 median annual earnings: $27,508
> Total workers: 250,000
Packaging and filling machine operators and tenders tend to work in factories that and package food and other consumer goods. Typically, this occupation requires a high school diploma, if that, as a minimum level of education. This job can be labor intensive and may require overnight and overtime shifts.