10 Thankless Low-Paying Jobs That People Often Accept Anyway

Most everybody thinks they’re underpaid for what they do. But in reality, there are a handful of select jobs where this claim is especially true.

A few years ago I compiled a list of the 10 most underpaid jobs. The provocative list was a collection of occupations that I felt were grossly under-compensated considering their overall contribution to society; jobs like trauma scene clean-up workers and electrical linemen.

Since then, I continue to be bombarded with emails and comments from disgruntled people wondering how I could ever leave their job off my list; at least 100 of them over the past two years alone.

With that in mind, I’ve finally compiled another list of jobs that aren’t usually well-compensated, but in many cases people sign-up for anyway — sometimes because it’s the only job available.

I’m sure a lot of you are waiting with bated breath to see if your job made it here this time. So without further ado, here are ten more underpaid or otherwise low-paying jobs — most of them thankless — ranked by median salaries according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

10. Roofers

Median salary: $34,220
Do I think they’re underpaid? Yes.
Why they’re underpaid (or not): It’s bad enough having to work high above the ground, on sloped and slippery surfaces, in all types of weather conditions, including the stifling heat of summer. Even worse, roofing is the fifth most dangerous profession in America, with an annual fatality rate ten times greater than the overall workforce. For this, they get little more than $17 per hour.

9. School Bus Drivers

Median salary: $27,580
Do I think they’re underpaid? Yes.
Why they’re underpaid (or not): School bus drivers require a unique mix of incredible patience, concentration and driving skills. It can’t be easy driving a large clumsy school bus and maneuvering it into tight spaces with dozens of kids constantly screaming behind you. Considering all the responsibility that they have, school bus drivers perform their jobs admirably day-in and day-out for a relative pittance.

8. Deep Sea Fishermen

Median salary: $25,590
Do I think they’re underpaid? Yes.
Why they’re underpaid (or not): Anybody who has watched the Deadliest Catch on Discovery knows how dangerous deep sea fishing is. In fact, it is by far the most dangerous job in America; 60 times deadlier compared to the overall workforce. Among other perils, fishermen risk being dragged overboard after being snagged by hooks, or swept out to sea in bad weather. Think about that next time you pop some fish sticks in the oven.

7. Couriers

Median salary: $24,080
Do I think they’re underpaid? No.
Why they’re underpaid (or not): My mother-in-law is a courier and I see how it can be a demanding job — especially if you’re responsible for delivering time-sensitive material in large metropolitan areas with heavy traffic. And while professional drivers have the ninth most dangerous job in America, it’s hard to argue they are underpaid when there are so many people willing and able to do the job. (Sorry, Mom.)

6. Nursing Aids, Orderlies and Attendants

Median salary: $24,010
Do I think they’re underpaid? Yes.
Why they’re underpaid (or not): Being a nurse’s assistant often requires a cast-iron stomach and entails very long hours with sometimes-grumpy and uncooperative patients. Job duties include changing bedpans, inserting catheters, giving sponge baths, and providing other general care and comfort to the sick and injured on a daily basis. It’s one of the most under-appreciated jobs in the world.

5. Slaughterers and Meat Packers

Median salary: $23,380
Do I think they’re underpaid? Yes.
Why they’re underpaid (or not): If it weren’t for these guys doing all the dirty work, I’d probably be a vegetarian. I suspect a large number of you reading this would be too.

4. Ambulance Drivers

Median salary: $22,940
Do I think they’re underpaid? Yes.
Why they’re underpaid (or not): Talk about a high-pressure job; ambulance drivers are almost always working in life-or-death situations. Many are trained as emergency medical technicians. The job is both physically and emotionally demanding, and usually requires an irregular work schedule. For $11.50 per hour it hardly seems worth it.

3. Telemarketers

Median salary: $22,310
Do I think they’re underpaid? No.
Why they’re underpaid (or not): Telemarketers; you either hate ’em or don’t own a phone. In fact, I have yet to meet a person who has complained about not getting enough calls from telemarketers. I imagine most telemarketers get an earful several times a day from irate people who don’t appreciate being cold-called at dinner time — or any other time for that matter. Why anyone would be a telemarketer is a mystery to me. It certainly ain’t for the pay.

2. Maids and Housekeepers

Median salary: $19,300
Do I think they’re underpaid? No.
Why they’re underpaid (or not): Most maid and housekeeper jobs are neither glamorous or lucrative. And because there is no shortage of people who are both willing and able to do the job, not unlike pizza delivery drivers, their wages will always remain woefully depressed.

1. Childcare Workers

Median salary: $19,300
Do I think they’re underpaid? Yes.
Why they’re underpaid (or not): Despite the importance and responsibility tied to the job, a Wall Street Journal survey found that child care workers ranked 186th out of 200 professions based on income, working environment, stress, physical demands and job outlook. In fact, the median salary of the average childcare worker equates to an hourly rate that’s less than what many babysitters get paid.

So that’s it, folks. And if I left your job off the list for the second time in a row, don’t despair. There’s always the chance that I’ll finally feature your thankless job next time — although I’m still not sure why anyone would want such a distinction in the first place.

Photo Credit: Bill Ward


  1. 1


    Interesting list in that 20% of the list are healthcare workers and another 20% are involved in the welfare of our children. If you include maids and housekeepers (who often double as nannies) then that’s 30%. Strange priorities we have don’t you think? And it just occurred to me that 30% of the list is comprised of occupations that provide for basic needs, food and shelter.

    • 2

      Len Penzo says

      The thing is, like it or not, those salaries are determined by good old supply and demand. As long as there are more people willing and able to do the job than there are available positions, then the earning power will remain depressed.

      I am trying to stress this point to my kids — unskilled positions usually pay less than jobs requiring unique abilities and skill sets. People who fail to develop those unique skills are then forced to compete for jobs that are more physically and/or emotionally demanding AND pay less.

      That’s just the way it is.

  2. 3


    To this list you can add regional airline pilots as seriously underpaid.

    I know, we all think airline pilots all earn $100k or more, and that is still true for a few senior pilots working for the major airlines. They are a vanishing breed.

    Junior regional airline pilots earn as little as $20-24k a year, less than a school bus driver. And yet the responsibilities are so much greater, with training, licensing, etc.


    • 4

      Len Penzo says

      Yes, of course! Dang. Why didn’t I remember regional pilots, DC?

      In fact, I remember reading one of the more recent commuter plane crash cockpit transcripts that included the two regional pilots complaining about their low pay (and I think they mentioned their lousy schedules too).

      I probably should have included them here, although to be fair, most of those pilots will eventually move on up to higher-paying jobs with bigger carriers. I don’t think most of the other jobs I listed here have similar pay advancement opportunities.

  3. 5

    nansuelee says

    Great Post. I went back and read your previous list and love that Lineman are included. My husband has been a lineman for 28 years, of this I could not be more proud! Living in Iowa, if the power is out he has worked in rain, snow, sleet and what ever else nature sends our way. We are fortunate that when there has been large outages due to storms folks are grateful to have the power restored and often offer coffee and treats to crews that are near their homes. So, the gratitude is there for us. And by the way, although he has not done helicopter work, given the opportunity he would do it in a heartbeat. If he does, I hope I do not know about it until it is over! Heights do not bother him in the least, I on the other hand love to have my feet on the ground.

    • 6

      Len Penzo says

      Yeah, linemen are incredibly under-appreciated. Especially the guys stringing high voltage lines between those massive towers; they are really something else!

    • 8

      Len Penzo says

      I do too, John.

      Unfortunately, globalization is a double-edged sword. It’s keeping our cost of living relatively under control, but it’s at the expense of those who hold jobs that are unskilled or otherwise have low barriers to entry.

      • 9


        It’s not just low-skill jobs that are being lost. Plenty of high-paying professional jobs are being lost to off-shoring.

        If a job involves data manipulation, it can be off-shored. Examples of lost jobs include application developers, system administrators, database administrators, medical lab technicians who review/interpret x-rays and lab results. Even college professors are not safe as more teaching is done on-line. As telepresence technology improves, even doctors will eventually find themselves competing globally.

        And not just to India. With salaries now rapidly rising in India, US companies are already making plans for the next low-wage areas to exploit: former Soviet Bloc countries and South America.

        What we are witnessing is a global flattening of salaries. It won’t stop until salaries are nearly the same regardless of location. Great for most of the world, but absolutely devastating in the US.

  4. 10


    the question that first must be asked is; are you using a valid criteria for the determining of the worth or value of the job?

    from an economic view how does the criteria you are using meet the criteria of the basic law of “supply and demand”?

    from a political view would this be seen as a criteria of the left or of the right?

    from a moral or religious view what principle or doctrine would that criteria be abiding by?

    • 11

      Len Penzo says

      My opinion expressed in the article regarding whether the jobs are underpaid or not are purely emotionally-based (which would indicate they are coming from the left side of the political spectrum).

      That being said, the engineer in me helps keep my emotional side in check. So, as I told Steve above, I realize that each of the jobs listed above are logically earning exactly what they are entitled to — that is, the marketplace has basically determined the wage scale for each job.

      Naturally, I would never advocate artificially increasing those wage scales. That would interfere with the free market and only cause other issues elsewhere.

      Does that make sense?

    • 13

      Len Penzo says

      I will say this: Over the past two years, I’ve gotten more comments from teachers saying that they should be included on my underpaid list than those who work in any other profession — bar none.

    • 15

      Len Penzo says

      I’m sure you do! LOL

      So … Did I at least do a fair job of getting through the mine field I set for myself, Dr. Dean?

  5. 16


    To the contrary, what is the education level (upfront investment on behalf of the employee) required to do most of the jobs? Some have no requirements at all, some are Highschool or GED. So, while they may be “noble” professions, there is an excess of labor available per given opening, so why should they pay more?

    • 19

      Len Penzo says

      They are paid pretty poorly, Paula. But with the median wage at $34,530, they’re paid more than roofers — and I think their job is less dangerous too. Well, unless you blow a deadline. 😉

  6. 22

    Gina says

    Having lived in Dutch Harbor Alaska and have friends still living there..you are waaayy off on salary for the crab boat fisherman. They can make 25000.00 in a season! Season being three months give or take.. One guy I knew worked one crab season then headed to Florida to work the other 9 months, guy made 100,000 a year.
    So they make more than you think! Depends on many factors of course, the catch, the captain, seniority on the boat.
    I loved to be at the grocery store when they would buy three months of groceries at at time!$ 3-5000.00 grocery bills were not uncommon!!

    • 23

      Len Penzo says

      Oh, I believe it, Gina! Of course, remember that the salary numbers I used are not the average salary; it’s the median, which simply means the value is the mid-point earnings for all deep sea fishermen. So half of all deep sea fisherman make more than the median shown and the other half make less. :-)

  7. 25

    Jimmy says

    How about we raise the minimum wage to $25 an hour! Not only will that solve the problem of most of our country just barely scraping by but it will get a lot of folks off of unemployment and government assistance. I know a lot of people that it just does not make sense to work for the extremely low minimum wage when they can make more sitting around doing nothing receiving assistance…the same goes for unemployment. And it will also push skilled wages up and it might be a way to keep Mr/Mrs 1% from getting all of the profits of the hard workers of our society…It will have it’s flaws but what system doesn’t?

    • 26

      Len Penzo says

      Now that was a very effective application of sarcasm, Jimmy! Well done, sir.

      (Er, at least I think that was sarcasm; wasn’t it?)

  8. 27

    Angela says

    Falling into the nurse et al category, I believe, when my mother was in long term care for Alzheimers’, I was astonished at the hard work and dedication of the Personal Support Workers (PSWs). The floor my mother was on and the one above it were security floors, all dementia. The higher floors were a mix, and then there was palliative care. There was sometimes as few as one nurse on duty on a floor, but several more PSWs. When my Mom passed away, I was left with a deep respect for these (mostly) women.

  9. 28


    Journalists (and not just print but radio etc) are definitely underpaid but it’s a job many are lining up to do. At least till they get disillusioned and mive into marketing/comms/pr.

    Emergency service workers would probably top my list of underpaid, underappreciated professions.

  10. 29


    You missed out ‘financial blog writer’.

    Still, we can’t really go toe-to-toe with the fisherman in the deadliness bragging stakes, unless you count having a scrap with Google. 😉

  11. 31

    Belinda . R says

    I would add substitute teacher to the list. Pay is $45 a day where I live. If I work every school day of the month I can gross/earn $900 that month


  1. […] The Bering Sea, home of the Deadliest Catchh as well as some of the fiercest waters on the planet, is a cruel mistress. Howling squalls buffet the ship with frigid winds. A constantly slick deck ravaged by the pounding surf is a relentless threat to claim the balance and life of a fisherman. Commercial fishing equipment weighing tons sweeps precariously just feet or inches from the crew and sometimes even strikes an unfortunate crew member. It’s a thankless job. […]

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