The lowest-paid American workers are so often the people with whom we interact the most in our daily lives. They’re not just the people who prepare and serve our food, but also just about any service-related worker, from auto repair attendants to the people who shampoo our hair at the salon. They’re the people who clean hotel and hospital rooms, dry-clean clothes, and even take care of children to allow parents to work.
It is often said that a college education leads to higher-paying jobs, but this isn’t always true. By one estimate, locker room, coatroom, and dressing room attendants are almost as likely to have a four-year degree as the average U.S. adult. And nearly one in five childcare workers holds a bachelor’s degree, showing that higher educational attainment doesn’t automatically lead to decent wages or benefits. (These are the lowest-paying jobs for college grads.)
Though American public-school teachers aren’t among the country’s lowest-paid workers, they often struggle to make ends meet and are notoriously underpaid compared to others with comparable levels of higher education. (Teaching certainly isn’t one of the 87 jobs with six-figure salaries.)
To determine the worst paying jobs in America, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed data on median annual wage estimates for 789 detailed occupations from the May 2020 Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics program of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Detailed occupations were ranked based on the median annual earnings for all employees in 2020. Data on projected employment change from 2020 to 2030 and the percentage of workers with at least a bachelor’s degree in 2018-2019 came from the BLS Employment Projections program. Only workers aged 25 or over were considered.
Certainly, when it comes to the laws of supply and demand in the labor market, those with skills that are easier to obtain than others (such as food preparation and washing clothes compared to performing surgeries or litigating cases in court) are not going to be paid as well. But an important question is whether anyone in America who works full time or struggles to get as many hours as possible should be paid less than what it takes to cover basic living costs, including rent, health insurance premiums, and childcare. How much the lowest-paid workers should earn is still an ongoing debate.
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