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The Most Underrated Jobs

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by Susan Adams

Paralegals and legal assistants make an average annual income of $47,000, and over the past three years the average unemployment rate in the field has been just 3.1%. The job is also relatively low-stress, involves little contact with the public, and doesn't require employees to breathe in toxic fumes or lift loads of 50 lbs. or more. Those factors land paralegal in the number one spot on CareerCast.com's new list of most underrated jobs. Second on the list: accountant, with an average income of $60,000 and an average three-year unemployment  rate of 4.8%. Loan officer ranks third, with income of $55,000 and a three-year unemployment rate of 4.4%.

Each January CareerCast, the three-year-old Carlsbad, Calif. jobs website, releases a list of America's ten best and ten worst jobs after evaluating 200 professions using five core criteria: pay, hiring outlook, work environment, stress and physical demands. The data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Census Bureau, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and an array of private compensation surveys, trade association studies and state statistics. (A CareerCast team did the number crunching that resulted in the compensation and unemployment figures above.)

This year, with unemployment persistently high and pressure on politicians to improve the jobs picture, Tony Lee, CareerCast's publisher, says he and his team figured it was time to tap its vast data pool and release a list of jobs that may be unglamorous but that have better than average employment rates and incomes. While they don't pay the six- or seven-figure compensation of hedge fund managers or heart surgeons, these underrated jobs allow workers to enjoy a decent standard of living and a relatively bright employment outlook. "We tried to come up with a list that's relevant to most working people," says Lee.

Lee has been working on the best and worst jobs data since 1995, when he, Wisconsin publisher Les Krantz and two statistics professors from the University of Wisconsin, started putting together the report for CareerJournal.com, a now-defunct site formerly run by The Wall Street Journal. After CareerJournal shut down, Lee teamed up with CareerCast and continued the project. (A link to the top jobs methodology is here.)

Three of the most underrated jobs already made CareerCast's list of best jobs in January 2011: Software engineer, computer systems analyst and dental hygienist. In fact, software engineer, with an average income of $87,000, was number one on the best jobs list, but it dropped to the fifth slot on the underrated jobs list because of the heavy weighting Lee says his team gave to employment prospects and salary, and new data that has come in since January.

One caveat about this list and every other "most this" or "most that" jobs list: While it does seem that Lee and his team make a serious effort to rate particular job categories, using extensive data over a long period of time, there is always a dollop of subjectivity and a measure of confusion in any job rating measure. Forbes contributor Steve Denning recently wrote two pieces, one about the most hated jobs, using data from another jobs website, CareerBliss, and a piece about the supposedly happiest jobs from a Christian Science Monitor slide show about a four-year-old General Social Survey by the National Organization for Research at the University of Chicago.  One oddity: while CareerCast considers "paralegal/legal assistant" the most underrated job, CareerBliss's list has "law clerk" listed as the seventh-most-hated job. We would need to know exactly how each list defines the job to know whether the two conflict. One job that made both the happiest list and the most underrated list: physical therapist.

1. Paralegal/Legal assistant

Average Income: $47,000
Unemployment rate for 2010: 4.6%

2. Accountant

Average income: $60,000
Unemployment rate for 2010: 5%

3. Loan Officer

Average Income: $55,000
Unemployment rate for 2010: 7.7%

4. Market Research Analyst

Average income: $62,000
Unemployment rate for 2010: 7.7%

5. Software Engineer

Average income: $87,000
Unemployment rate for 2010: 4.6%

6. Computer Systems Analyst

Average income: $77,000
Unemployment rate for 2010: 5.9%

Click Here to See the Full List of the Most Underrated Jobs

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