Seven Highly Educated Jobs Making the Least Money

24/7 Wall St.

More than two-thirds of 2011’s college graduates had student debt. Those students, according to the Project on Student Debt, had an average of more than $25,000 in back loans. To make matters worse for many recent graduates, college graduates have a smaller chance of finding a job than they once did.

For some, the jobs they get with their degree pay so little that it can take years for them just to pay off their loans. 24/7 Wall St. reviewed Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data to find jobs that require a bachelor’s degree to be competitive, yet pay less than the median annual wage of $34,750. For example, legislators -- elected government officials -- earn a median of less than $20,000 annually even though most have bachelor’s degrees. These are the seven highly educated jobs making the least money.

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Part of the reason these jobs pay less than the median is that they are temporary, so a full-time, supporting salary isn’t always needed. Graduate-level teaching assistants, who earn a median of just over $30,000 per year, typically pursue a different career once they leave school. Many legislators are only elected for a single term, and some maintain a separate job while in office. President Barack Obama, for example, was a state senator and law school lecturer simultaneously.

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In the case of legislators or radio and television announcers, a bachelor’s degree is not required, but it tends to provide the skills needed to be successful in these positions. In other cases of low-paying occupations, it is more or less impossible to get a job without a degree. Most clinics require a candidate for a rehabilitation counselor position to have master’s degree in counseling or a related field.

In order to identify the seven most overeducated jobs making the least money, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed wage data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Database that earned less than the median annual salary of $34,750. We used the BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook to identify educational requirements and long-term job prospects. O*Net Online, an independent career research and advisory site, was used to determine the percentage of people in each occupation with a bachelor’s, master’s or doctorate. The seven occupations on our list required a bachelor’s degree for most employers.

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These are the seven highly educated jobs making the most money.


1. Legislators
> Median income: $19,780
> Total employed: 56,760

Legislators are elected officials and do not need to meet any training or educational requirements. A candidate for a legislative position typically must be a citizen and sometimes meet certain age requirements. Although not a requirement, most legislators have bachelor’s degrees. In state and federal positions, it is common for legislators to have graduate degrees in law or business as well. Advanced degrees in finance and public administration can be useful, according to the BLS, because legislators are often required to understand, analyze and communicate the affairs of the regions they represent. Legislators' wages vary widely, depending on the level of government they are in, from the local to the national. In 2012, the bottom 10% of legislators earned less than $16,470.

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2. Recreation Workers
> Median income: $22,240
> Total employed: 309,730

There were 309,730 recreation workers in 2012, 10% of whom made more than $38,750. However, the median salary was just $22,240, and the bottom earners made less than $17,000. The difference in annual wages is not huge, but recreation facilities employ a wide range of workers. Entry level camp counselors may be responsible for supervising children and going on hikes, while camp or park directors may sometimes serve as technical advisors and oversee budgets and park planning. Many recreation positions are seasonal and do not typically require a bachelor’s degree. Full-time positions, however, involve administrative, supervisory or other roles, such as providing services for people with special needs. For these, a bachelor's degree or even a master’s degrees is very helpful.

3. Radio and Television Announcers
> Median income: $28,020
> Total employed: 31,340

Radio and television announcers do not just present information to the public. They also edit articles and stories, produce advertisements, conduct interviews and provide commentary. To become an announcer, only a high school diploma is mandatory, but according to the BLS, entry-level positions are competitive and serious applicants should have advanced degrees in communications, journalism or a related field. More than a third of announcers have at least a bachelor’s degree. In 2012, 25% of radio and television announcers made less than $19,530.

4. Library Technicians
> Median income: $30,660
> Total employed: 100,230

The median annual income of library technicians in 2012 was about $30,000. The bottom 10% earned $18,430 or less. Library technicians are responsible for a broad range of tasks, including clerical duties such as maintaining records and book loans, as well as more complex projects such as educating students on library technology and developing curriculums for teachers. Most library technicians have at least a bachelor’s degree, but, according to the BLS, smaller libraries have been known to hire technicians with only a high school diploma. It is also possible to advance to this position after succeeding as a library assistant.

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5. Graduate Teaching Assistant
> Median income: $31,270
> Total employed: 120,160

Graduate teaching assistants typically need to be enrolled in a graduate program. So, although the skills required are advanced and the annual pay usually very low, employment in this occupation is short term, for the duration of the graduate program. Teaching assistants typically are responsible for grading papers, assisting a professor with research, instructing lower-level courses and meeting with students on a regular basis. About 30,000 graduate teaching assistants, approximately 25% of those employed in this occupation, earned less than $19,500 in 2012.

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6. Proofreaders and Copy Markers
> Median income: $32,780
> Total employed: 11,300

Not only must proofreaders and copy markers have a mastery of the English language. In some cases, the editing process involves verifying factual information, and the proofreader must compare figures against data from other records and check references. According to the O*Net online, nearly 90% of proofreaders have at least a bachelor’s degree. There were only 11,300 proofreaders and copy markers in 2012. The median salary for the position was $32,780, but the bottom 10% earned less than $20,100 that year.

7. Rehabilitation Counselors
> Median income: $33,880
> Total employed: 104,070

Individuals suffering from personal, social and vocational problems can reach a point when outside help and rehabilitation is necessary. Rehabilitation counselors help their clients manage any emotional or physical problems in order to reintegrate them into society. This process involves maintaining records, documenting the client’s progress, arranging evaluations and devising plans for successful rehabilitation. The top tier of rehabilitation counselors earned at least $60,000 in 2012, but most of the more than 100,000 people employed in this occupation nationwide earned far less. The bottom 10% of counselors barely earned $20,000 annually.

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