America's Best- and Worst-Paying Jobs

Forbes

The medical field still dominates the top, and the food service industry holds at the bottom.

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It's still better to be a doctor than a dicer. Food preparation and serving remains the nation's lowest-paid line of work, while the medical field still offers the nine best-paid jobs in the U.S.

According to the U.S. government's newly released Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, based on 2008 data, the typical surgeon makes an average of $206,770 a year. That puts surgeons above anesthesiologists to have the best-paying job in the country.

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Internists now earn a little more than prosthodontists (people who make and fit false teeth). Otherwise, the top 10 jobs rank the same as a year ago. The biggest change is a nearly $10,000-a-year drop in pay for natural sciences managers, meaning people who run labs and research facilities.

Within the 25 best- and 25 worst-paying jobs, not much has changed. The best-paying 25 are all the same as last year with some minor rearrangements. Within the worst-paying, one job fell off the list--or, rather, climbed out. Agriculture graders and sorters now make enough to rank as the 26th worst paid job in America. Maybe chicken sexing isn't quite as bad as it used to be. Replacing them on the list: employment in food-preparation and serving jobs like cappuccino maker and "sandwich artist."

Overall, the average annual wage in the U.S. was up 3.9% from a year before, rising to $42,270. That is about in line with the 3.8% increase the year before. Perhaps the increase in average wage may continue, if only because of people at the top keeping their jobs as those lower down lose them. After all, Ken Lewis is holding on as chief executive officer of Bank of America, though the bank announced in December it would be reducing its workforce by 35,000 over the next three years.

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Want to push your pay up as high as possible? Land a job as a surgeon in Gary, Indiana. The average surgeon there makes almost $15,000 above the national average. Who makes the farthest below average? Waiters and waitresses in Yauco, Puerto Rico, who earn $13,610 a year. Within the 50 states, the big loser would be a counter attendant in a cafeteria or concession stand in Owenboro, Ky., pulling in just $13,810 a year.

Among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, D.C. had far and away the highest average annual salary, at $67,810. Massachusetts, New York and Connecticut followed, all at around $50,000. Puerto Rico has the lowest average annual salary, $24,650--despite having a cost of living comparable to the District of Columbia. Among the 50 states, though, South Dakota and Mississippi ranked the lowest, at about $33,000.

[As originally published, this article contained the following paragraph here: "Postal service clerks and models will be happy to know that their average annual pay increased more than anyone else's. Postal workers make 23.2% more than a year ago, bringing them up to an annual salary of $54,550. Models didn't make nearly as much to begin with, but they're up 20.4% to $30,160 a year." The BLS has now withdrawn its wage data for postal service clerks after determining that its methodology did not work well for estimating their wages. An explanation of the difficulties of comparing BLS data between years can be found here.]

The railroad industry got hit pretty hard. Rail yard engineers, yard engine operators and hostlers now make 14.0% less than they used to, the second-largest drop in pay, to $34,840 from $40,510 Locomotive engineers were hit even harder; they now make 15.4% less than before, though unlike rail yard engineers they still make slightly more than the national average.

America's Best-Paying Jobs

From surgeons to CEOs, here's who has the highest average annual salary in the United States.

These numbers are drawn from the U.S. government's Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates. The latest available, they use 2008 data and are based on a national survey of employers large and small in all industry sectors.

No. 1 Surgeons

Average Annual Pay: $206,770

One-Year Change: +8.0%

Employees in Field: 47,070

Best-Paying State: Wisconsin

The Job: Treat diseases, injuries and deformities by invasive methods, such as manual manipulation or by using instruments and appliances.

No. 2 Anesthesiologists

Average Annual Pay: $197,570

One-Year Change: +2.5%

Employees in Field: 34,230

Best-Paying State: Kentucky

The Job: Administer anesthetics during surgery or other medical procedures.

No. 3 Orthodontists

Average Annual Pay: $194,930

One-Year Change: +5.2%

Employees in Field: 5,500

Best-Paying State: New Hampshire

The Job: Examine, diagnose and treat dental malocclusions and oral cavity anomalies. Design and fabricate appliances to realign teeth and jaws.

No. 4 Obstetrician and Gynecologists

Average Annual Pay: $192,780

One-Year Change: +5.0%

Employees in Field: 19,750

Best-Paying State: Wisconsin

The Job: Diagnose, treat and help prevent diseases of women, especially those affecting the reproductive system and the process of childbirth.

No. 5 Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons

Average Annual Pay: $190,420

One-Year Change: +6.7%

Employees in Field: 4,760

Best-Paying State: Michigan

The Job: Perform surgery on mouths and jaws.

Click here for the full list of America's Best-Paying Jobs.

America's Worst-Paying Jobs

From cooks to childcare, these jobs have the lowest average annual salary in the United States.

These numbers are drawn from the U.S. government's Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates. The latest available, they use 2008 data and are based on a national survey of employers large and small in all industry sectors.

No. 1 Combined Food-Preparation and Serving workers, Including Fast Food

Average Annual Pay: $17,400

One-Year Change: +4.2%

Employees in Field: 2,708,840

Best-Paying State: District of Columbia

The Job: Perform duties that combine both food preparation and food service.

No. 2 Cooks, Fast Food

Average Annual Pay: $17,620

One-Year Change: +4.5%

Employees in Field: 559,160

Best-Paying State: District of Columbia

The Job: Prepare and cook food in a fast-food restaurant with a limited menu.

No. 3 Dishwashers

Average Annual Pay: $17,750

One-Year Change: +4.0%

Employees in Field: 521,150

Best-Paying State: Nevada

The Job: Clean dishes, kitchen, food preparation equipment or utensils.

No. 4 Dining Room and Cafeteria Attendants, Bartender Helpers

Average Annual Pay: $18,140

One-Year Change: +4.4%

Employees in Field: 416,410

Best-Paying State: Hawaii

The Job: Facilitate food service, set and bus tables, supply service bar with food, and serve water, butter and coffee.

No. 5 Shampooers

Average Annual Pay: $18,300

One-Year Change: +4.6%

Employees in Field: 15,570

Best-Paying State: District of Columbia

The Job: Shampoo and rinse customers' hair.

Click here for the full list of America's Worst-Paying Jobs.

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