What you should know about income

We all know that some occupations pay more than others. Banking pays more than poetry. Petroleum engineering pays more than dance. But what about more similar occupations? How do they stack up per hour?

It turns out we know the answer to this in pretty rich detail. I’ve spent some time over the past few days perusing the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates. This survey compares the mean and median hourly wages for 800 different occupational titles, and is well worth a look.

Some median wage comparisons:

  • Lodging managers: $22.26, mall superintendents: $28.26, gaming managers: $32.40
  • Claims adjustor: $27.46, Tax preparer: $14.45, loan officer: $26.38
  • Statistician: $35.01, Actuary: $41.93, Computer programmer: $34.10
  • Architect: $34.95, landscape architect: $29.12
  • Civil engineer: $36.82, aerospace engineer: $45.57, Petroleum engineer: $52.36
  • Astronomer: $50.35, Atmospheric scientist: $40.73
  • Preschool teacher: $11.80, adult ed/GED: $22.08
  • Fashion designer: $30.90, interior designer: $22.20
  • Reporters: $16.52, editors: $24.42, technical writers: $30.16, writers & authors: $25.91, PR: $24.98
  • And on it goes…

Of course, all of these have caveats. The 13,620 Americans who list their occupation as “athlete” may earn $80,950 per year on average, but this encompasses quite a range. There are probably not too many athletes who actually earn $80,950. Even “writer” shows quite a range between the median and the mean. Some people do very well and some do not do so well at all. Whereas I’m guessing that most petroleum engineers cluster around a similar wage.

But I wonder how many people look at such a list when choosing an occupation? I imagine that most lodging managers could also be mall superintendents after a learning curve if they chose to go in that direction, and vice versa. A $6/hour difference translates into an additional $12,000 a year. That’s $1000 a month — enough to afford a lot of little luxuries, or to save more aggressively. While it’s usually not worth taking a job you don’t like for the money, if you don’t like your current job, it’s always possible you’ll like a similar, but slightly better paying one, more. It’s worth looking around.

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