The median household income in the United States has increased slightly over the past two years, but it is still down more than 6% from the start of the recession. As of June, a U.S. family earned an estimated median of $52,100 annually, according to Sentier Research. This means that the vast majority of families, let alone individuals, earn far less than the coveted six-figure annual salary that is often associated with prosperity.
Of the more than 800 different occupations considered in the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Employment Statistics Database, only 30 earned an estimated median of more than $100,000 annually. Psychiatrists were estimated to earn the most, but there were less than 25,000 psychiatrists in the country in 2012. 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the occupations with a median annual salary of more than $100,000 that employed the most people. Lawyers, for example, earned a median annual salary of roughly $113,500, and there are well more than half a million lawyers in the country. These are America’s most popular six-figure jobs.
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Most of these high-paid occupations are managerial positions. This includes managers in finance, sales, computer and information systems, and architectural and engineering. These are managers who likely have been employed in their field for years and have developed enough expertise to direct multiple employees in their field and oversee operations -- and they are paid accordingly. As of 2012, there were close to 6.4 million people in managerial roles in the United States. The median annual salary for a manager is just under $94,000.
Some of the occupations are higher-paying because of the amount of training and education required to obtain them. Lawyers, for example, must take three years of post-graduate law school and pass a state's bar examination just to begin practicing. Pharmacists need to first complete several years of undergraduate study before spending three to four years obtaining a Doctor of Pharmacy degree. Some pharmacists must even spend as many as two years in residency for some advanced positions.
These positions are all the largest in the country for their level of income, but they are not all growing. In fact, the number of marketing and financial managers declined by more than 10% between 2002 and 2012. Other jobs have shown more promise. The number of computer and information systems managers rose by 17% over that time, while the number of pharmacists grew by more than 23%.
To determine the America’s top-paying six-figure jobs, 24/7 Wall St. screened figures from the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics program for 2012, for the jobs with more than 100,000 workers and a median wage of more than $100,000 annually. The figures are estimates subject to sampling error and do not count self-employed workers. Data are collected by the program over several years. We considered only occupations that existed in both 2002 and 2012, when discussing job growth. Further information on each occupation came from the BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook.
These are America's most popular six-figure jobs.
9. Family and General Practitioners
> Employment: 110,050
> Median wage: $172,020
Family and general physicians treat commonplace injuries and illnesses, conduct check-ups and recommend patients to specialists as needed. Like other physicians, family and general practitioners have to attend medical school, complete a residency program and must be licensed. Unlike many surgeons and specialists, family and general physicians tend to have a solid base of regular clients. In 2012, the median wage for such physicians was more than $172,000, one of the highest in the nation.
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8. Marketing Managers
> Employment: 171,430
> Median wage: $119,480
Marketing managers are responsible for monitoring market trends and demand in order to develop strategies that would help a company maximize its sales. This may involve changing prices or estimating the effect of introducing a new product to market. Marketing managers typically have a bachelor’s degree and a background in accounting, economics, statistics or one of several other fields. Most also have significant work experience prior to becoming managers. Pay can vary considerably: the top 25% earned more than $160,810 annually in 2012, while the bottom 25% were paid less than $85,740 -- still over $50,000 more than the median wage for all occupations.
7. Architectural and Engineering Managers
> Employment: 187,640
> Median wage: $124,870
Architectural and engineering managers are charged with drawing up the plans needed to meet the technical goals of a project. They then oversee the project from its beginning to ensure its successful completion. Becoming an architectural or engineering manager requires either a bachelor’s degree in an engineering speciality, or a professional degree in architecture, according to the BLS. More than three-fourths of all such managers earned $100,000 annually as of 2012. However, the number of such managers also declined by an estimated 18% between 2002 and 2012.
6. Chief Executives
> Employment: 255,940
> Median wage: $168,140
There were more than a quarter of a million chief executives nationwide as of 2012. Becoming a top executive, however, is not very easy, especially at a large business. Top executives often require extensive managerial experience and many have a master’s in business administration. According to BLS figures for 2010, just 17% of top executives were chief executives. In 2012, the median wage for chief executives was more than $168,000 -- although pay is determined by a combination of factors such as company size and type. Performance bonuses, stock options and executive perks actually may increase income substantially, although these compensation packages are often roundly criticized.
> Employment: 281,560
> Median wage: $116,670
Pharmacists, like many of the medical professions, are highly paid, partly because of the amount and cost of the training required. After earning their bachelor’s degree, pharmacists must spend an additional three to four years obtaining their doctorate in pharmacy. A smaller group of those looking for a clinical pharmacy or research job must also go through one to two years of residency. As pharmacies often can be open past normal business hours, some pharmacists may work nights and weekends as well. Because of the growing number of new drugs available and the increasing elderly population, pharmacists are also a growing occupation nationwide. The number of pharmacists increased an estimated 28.3% between 2002 and 2012.
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4. Computer and Information Systems Managers
> Employment: 309,740
> Median wage: $120,950
Computer and information systems managers are responsible for managing the work of an IT department at a private sector company or government entity. Their responsibilities include proposing improvements to an organization’s hardware and software needs, overseeing the execution of these improvements, and ensuring the security of the network and data. Some IT managers, such as chief information and chief technology officers, are among the senior executives at a firm. Pay for a typical manager exceeded $120,000 per year as of 2012, and more than one in four earned more than $150,000 last year.
3. Sales Managers
> Employment: 344,730
> Median wage: $105,260
Sales managers typically run a sales team. They direct and train members of the team and review performance data. Pay for someone in this position can vary widely, depending on their role and what industry they are in, according to the BLS. The bottom 10% earned less than $53,000, while the top 25% earned more than $150,000. Commissions, too, can be a major factor for total compensation. Therefore the product being sold and the team’s success can make a big difference in the managers' final take-home pay. There are an estimated 344,730 sales managers in the country.
2. Financial Managers
> Employment: 484,910
> Median wage: $109,740
Financial managers create financial statements and direct investment strategies. They typically do not need more than a bachelor’s degree, but lower-level workers usually need at least five years on the job before they can advance to the position. These managers are often responsible for keeping the company finances, cash flow and credit in good order. Many financial managers work at insurance companies, banks and other institutions, offering financial advice and services to businesses, but they can work in all industries.
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> Employment: 581,920
> Median wage: $113,530
There were well over half a million lawyers in the United States as of 2012, making the profession the largest among those with a median wage of at least $100,000 annually. Attorneys are required to first earn a bachelor’s degree. They then typically have to complete a law school education and pass a state’s bar exam. Lawyers can specialize in criminal law, tax law, litigation or many other areas. However, in recent years, many of the most lucrative positions -- those at the firms collectively known as Big Law -- have disappeared. According to a July report by The New Republic, most Big Law firms may soon disappear as businesses cut costs and demand for high-cost legal services continues to decline.