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. Here’s my take on the 10 most underpaid jobs. Unless otherwise noted, annual income figures are based on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
After reading this list, if you think I’ve overlooked a particular job (like yours), please leave a comment and let me have it with both barrels. Just keep the profanity and ad hominems to a minimum.
Average Annual Income: $23,500
Annual Income If It Were Up to Me: $45,000
Appreciation Meter: Office outcasts rarely invited to workplace birthday celebrations and promotion parties.
Why They’re Underpaid: In office buildings and schools all over the world, janitors quietly go about their job of picking up everybody’s mess. Their work is usually done behind the scenes, so it’s easy to overlook the fact that they often have to deal with some really messy clean-ups like throw-up and excrement. When they leave work the place is spotless. They do this knowing the next day they’ll just have to it clean up all over again. Talk about a Sisyphean challenge.
9. Youth Sports Referee/Umpire
Average Annual Income: $28,330
Annual Income If It Were Up to Me: $50,000
Public Appreciation Meter: Slightly above the small pox virus, but one notch below dog poop. Okay, okay — two notches.
Why They’re Underpaid: Without these extremely tolerant men and women, there would be no organized sports leagues for our kids. Despite that fact, the next time you want to pick-up a few fresh insult lines that would make a sailor blush, stop by your local park and take in a youth sports competition. When you consider all the abuse that these referees and umpires take on a daily basis, it is a wonder that anybody actually aspires to be in such a position in the first place.
8. Little League President / Board Member
Average Annual Income: $0
Annual Income If It Were Up to Me: $35,000
Public Appreciation Meter: More likely to be approached by folks carrying pitchforks & torches than “thank you” letters.
Why They’re Underpaid: I was a Little League President for two years, so I know what I am talking about here. For a volunteer, the hours are extremely long – upwards of 40 per week. Everybody is always upset at you, calling at all hours of the night to complain about trivial things. And when you’re not acting as the League’s pin cushion you’re playing psychologist, soothing the bruised egos of parents who all think their kid is the second coming of Derek Jeter. Good times.
Average Annual Income: $65,130
Annual Income If It Were Up to Me: $150,000
Public Appreciation Meter: Not too bad, actually.
Why They’re Underpaid: This job often requires a cast-iron stomach and entails very long hours with sometimes-grumpy and uncooperative patients. I say anybody who has to assist with surgeries, change bedpans, insert catheters, give injections and sponge baths, and provide other general care and comfort to the sick and injured on a daily basis is almost by definition, underpaid.
Average Annual Income: $31,210
Annual Income If It Were Up to Me: $125,000
Public Appreciation Meter: Exterminated.
Why They’re Underpaid: Exterminators often have to work in dark and tight places. They’re often required to work with hazardous chemicals too. The worst part though is they’re constantly at risk of being bit or stung, or contracting rabies, hepatitis, or other diseases from vermin that most of us would just as soon never even have to look at: poisonous snakes, rats, black widow spiders, rabid raccoons, skunks, bats, gators, bees, mice, cockroaches, and rats. “Uh, Len, you said ‘rats’ twice.” I know – that’s because I really hate rats.
5. Septic Tank Servicer
Average Annual Income: $35,550
Annual Income If It Were Up to Me: $135,000
Public Appreciation Meter: “You mean somebody actually has to clean those things out?”
Why They’re Underpaid: Their job description stinks – and I mean literally: Clean and repair septic tanks, sewer lines, or related structures. Clean and disinfect domestic basements and other areas flooded by sewer stoppages. Withdraw cables from pipes and examine them for evidence of mud, roots, grease, and other deposits indicating broken or clogged sewer lines. By the way, I’ll give you two guesses what “other deposits” could be, and the first one doesn’t count.
Average Annual Income: $39,320
Annual Income If It Were Up to Me: $150,000
Public Appreciation Meter: Better than some professions, but not as good as most.
Why They’re Underpaid: When I was growing up I lived next door to a mortician. I still remember the empty industrial-sized containers of embalming powder he kept in his garage to store everyday stuff. My family became close with his and we did a lot of things together. Uncle Chuck was such a funny and easy going guy, which always amazed me considering his very somber duties at the mortuary, stories of which he shared freely with us kids as we became teenagers. One of his duties was embalming; it is a difficult and surprisingly physically demanding job. To this day I still remain amazed at how Uncle Chuck could be so easy going and carefree at home considering all the sadness and heartache he encountered on a daily basis at work.
Average Annual Income: $54,300
Annual Income If It Were Up to Me: $200,000
Public Appreciation Meter: Only when the local power goes out.
Why They’re Underpaid: Not too surprisingly, this job regularly ranks among those with the ten highest fatality rates. This job is much worse than that of a professional tight-rope walker, as it combines nerve-wracking heights with extremely high electrical currents. If that doesn’t convince you, maybe this will. And if you have a few extra minutes, maybe even this.
2. Trauma Scene Clean-up Worker
Average Annual Income: $35,000 (according to answerbag.com)
Annual Income If It Were Up to Me: $250,000
Public Appreciation Meter: Dead on arrival.
Why They’re Underpaid: Did you ever wonder who goes in and cleans up the blood, guts and random body parts after major car accidents, homicides and other similar tragedies? I don’t think most people do — they just figure a site magically cleans itself up after the authorities leave the scene. I once spoke to a guy who used to do this for a living and he said the job is absolutely horrific and often requires superhuman intestinal fortitude and emotional control. Here’s a chilling job description that warns potential job applicants what to expect and here are some common tools of their trade.
1. Military Soldier/Sailor
Average Annual Income: $16,794 (First-year, enlisted)
Annual Income If It Were Up to Me: $1,000,000
Public Appreciation Meter: Getting better, but still not enough.
Why They’re Underpaid: The job of a soldier is, without a doubt, the most underpaid job in the world. In addition to being charged with putting their lives on the line on a daily basis in order to protect us and our way of life, the soldier’s job description also entails many of the difficult jobs previously mentioned. On top of that, they often have to do their jobs with minimal sleep, rations, and almost impossible living conditions. The freshest US recruits have to do all that for a base salary of just over $16,000 per year — and after their military taxes are deducted it’s even less. We should all keep that in mind the next time we think we’re underpaid for what we do.
So there you have it: the 10 most underpaid jobs. If you’re interested, you might also want to check out my list of the 10 most overpaid jobs — I’m sure that’ll ruffle a few feathers out there.