The Best Paying Jobs of the Future

24/7 Wall St.

The U.S. unemployment rate peaked at 10% in October 2009 and has since slowly improved, flirting with 8% earlier this month. Despite the downward trend, the rate is still more than double prerecession levels. As the economy continues to recover and more people return to the workforce, many are trying to find the right career — one that is hiring and pays well.

Knowing which jobs will be in high demand and pay the most is a good place to start. To serve as a guide, 24/7 Wall St. identified the best paying jobs of the future. These jobs will grow the most in the next decade, some as much as 60% by 2020. They also have median salaries that are close to double the national average of $34,450, and in some cases more.

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Many of these occupations will be in highest demand because of changes in the nation’s population and in the way the country’s businesses operate. Last year, the first baby boomers turned 65. As this generation gets older, increasing medical needs will require more health care professionals. Of the 10 high-paying, high-growth occupations we reviewed, six are in the medical field.

Because most of these positions are in the medical field, many require at least a master’s degree, and in many cases a doctoral degree. However, four have less demanding educational requirements, including the three that are growing the most. A career as a sonographer, projected to grow 43.5% with a median salary of $64,380, typically just requires an associate’s degree.

24/7 Wall St. identified the best paying jobs that also will have the highest demand for new workers in the future based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ National Employment Matrix, which forecasts job growth between 2010 and 2020 for the bureau’s more-than 1,000 listed jobs. The Matrix was used to identify the professions that are going to grow the most as a percentage of 2010 employment figures by 2020. Of those, we then narrowed the list to jobs that also had a median annual income of at least $60,000 in 2010, 75% higher than the $34,450 national median average, and at least 5,000 positions. Using the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics, 24/7 Wall St. also identified the states with the highest concentration of jobs as of May 2011.

These are the best paying jobs of the future.

1. Biomedical Engineers

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> Pct. increase: 61.7%
> Total new jobs (2010-2020): 9,700
> Median income: $81,540
> States with the most jobs per capita: Massachusetts, Utah, Minnesota


The work of biomedical engineers typically involves designing or maintaining biomedical equipment, such as artificial organs and X-ray machines. These jobs often require a great deal of technical knowledge in fields such as biology, engineering, math and chemistry. Because of this, a bachelor’s degree is typically needed. The professional requirements come with impressive compensation. The median income for such jobs was $81,540 and the top 10% earned more than $126,990. Between 2010 and 2020, the number of biomedical engineers is projected to rise by 61.7%, more than four times the projected growth rate for all jobs, which is 14%. To explain its growth projections for the profession, the BLS cites the baby boomer generation’s growing demand for biomedical devices and procedures as it “seeks to maintain its healthy and active lifestyle.”

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2. Diagnostic Medical Sonographers

> Pct. increase: 43.5%
> Total new jobs (2010-2020): 23,400
> Median income: $64,380
> States with the most jobs per capita: Rhode Island, Florida, South Dakota


Diagnostic medical sonographers work in hospitals and other facilities, conducting ultrasounds on patients and analyzing the resulting images. The BLS projects an increase of 43.5% in the number of positions between 2010 and 2020, which would raise the total number of such jobs to 77,100. Explaining the driving factors behind the growth, the BLS states that “as ultrasound technology evolves, it will be used as a substitute for procedures that are costly, invasive or expose patients to radiation.” Sonographers typically need an associate’s degree, and many employers prefer candidates to have professional certification. The top 10% of sonographers made more than $88,490 annually.

3. Market Research Analysts and Marketing Specialists

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> Pct. increase: 41.2%
> Total new jobs (2010-2020): 116,600
> Median income: $60,570
> States with the most jobs per capita: Delaware, Massachusetts, New York


Market research analysts work in most industries, monitoring and forecasting marketing and sales trends, as well as collecting and analyzing data on their companies’ products or services. To become a market research analyst, a bachelor’s degree is typically required, though many analysts have a master’s degree. Citing increases in the use of market research across all industries, the BLS projects the number of positions in the field will rise to almost 400,000 by 2020. Top-earning market research analysts made more than $111,440 annually.

4. Physical Therapists

> Pct. increase: 39.0%
> Total new jobs (2010-2020): 77,400
> Median income: $76,310
> States with the most jobs per capita: Rhode Island, Vermont, Maine


Physical therapists assist patients by helping to address and correct dysfunctional movement and pain. They are required to have a postgraduate professional degree, typically a Doctor of Physical Therapy, and a license. Those completing these prerequisites join one of the fastest-growing professions in the country — by 2020, the number of positions is expected to rise by 39%. The BLS states that “demand for physical therapy services will come, in large part, from the aging baby boomers, who are staying active later in life than previous generations did.” The top 10% of physical therapists earned more than $107,920.

5. Dental Hygienists

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> Pct. increase: 37.7%
> Total new jobs (2010-2020): 68,500
> Median income: $68,250
> States with the most jobs per capita: Michigan, Utah, Idaho


From 2010 to 2020, the number of dental hygienists is projected to rise by 37.7% to more than 250,000. Factors driving increased demand for this occupation include ongoing research linking oral health to general health, as well as an aging population keeping more of its teeth. Dental hygienists typically do not need a professional degree or previous work experience, though they often need an associate’s degree and a license. Typical job responsibilities include cleaning teeth and taking dental X-rays.

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6. Audiologists

> Pct. increase: 36.8%
> Total new jobs (2010-2020): 4,800
> 2010 Median annual wage: $66,660
> States with the most jobs per capita: New Mexico, Colorado, West Virginia


Audiologists treat patients who have problems with their hearing, balance or ears. A doctoral degree is necessary, as is a state license, though exact requirements differ by state. Explaining projected job growth, the BLS notes that “hearing loss increases as people age, so an aging population is likely to increase demand for audiologists.” There are not very many audiologists, and a projected 36.8% increase in jobs would bring the total number of audiologists to 17,800 by the end of the decade. Annual salaries exceeded $102,210 for the top 10% of audiologists.

7. Medical Scientists, Except Epidemiologists

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> Pct. increase: 36.4%
> Total new jobs (2010-2020): 36,400
> Median income: $76,700
> States with the most jobs per capita: Massachusetts, California, Washington


Though the roles of medical scientists vary from job to job, all study biological systems to understand their effects on human health. Medical scientists often work for the federal government, at research universities or in the private sector. By 2020, the number of medical scientists is projected to increase to more than 136,000, as the population of the United States grows and ages and the demand for prescription drugs rises. Educational requirements are quite high, with most positions asking for either a doctorate or a medical degree. The annual pay of the top 10% of medical scientists was $142,800.

8. Veterinarians

> Pct. increase: 35.9%
> Total new jobs (2010-2020): 22,000
> Median income: $82,040
> States with the most jobs per capita: Montana, Colorado, Iowa


In addition to pets, veterinarians tend to sick livestock, laboratory animals and other critters. The BLS projects that the number of veterinarians will increase by 22,000, or 35.9%, between 2010 and 2020. A rising national pet population, as well as the need for additional food supply inspection as the U.S. population grows, are among the reasons for the strong job growth. To practice, veterinarians must obtain a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree, currently awarded by just 28 colleges nationwide, as well as a state license.

9. Occupational Therapists

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> Pct. increase: 33.5%
> Total new jobs (2010-2020): 36,400
> Median income: $72,320
> States with the most jobs per capita: Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire


“Occupational therapists treat patients with injuries, illnesses, or disabilities through the therapeutic use of everyday activities. They help patients develop, recover, and improve the skills needed for daily living and working,” according to the BLS. Becoming an occupational therapist requires a master’s degree, which generally takes two years to complete. The number of occupational therapists is expected to reach 145,200 by 2020, as an aging baby-boomer generation looks to maintain its independence and stay active.

10. Optometrists

> Pct. increase: 33.1%
> Total new jobs (2010-2020): 11,300
> Median income: $94,990
> States with the most jobs per capita: Hawaii, North Dakota, Montana


Optometrists specialize in the care of eyes and vision. Their responsibilities include diagnosing eye injuries and diseases, as well as prescribing glasses and contact lenses. In order to practice, they are required to have a Doctor of Optometry degree, presently awarded by just 20 accredited programs, and must be licensed by the National Boards in Optometry. Those who meet these qualifications are often extremely well-compensated: the top 10% of optometrists earned in excess of $166,400. With vision problems becoming more frequent as people grow older, the number of optometrists is expected to rise by 33.1% between 2010 and 2020.

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