Top 10 Largest Occupations in the United States Dominated by Jobs that pay $20k to $30k a Year.

The American economy has slowly compressed the middle class into a minority group.  When the manufacturing sector slowly eroded away, waiting in the wings to replace those higher paying jobs was low wage service sector employment.  Now as it turns out the top 10 largest occupations in the United States are occupied by low wage service sector fields.  Contrast this to the last generation where many of the top largest occupations paid a wage that was enough to propel someone into the middle class.  Out of the top 10 occupations, there is only one job that pays a higher wage and this requires a college degree and specialized training.

Low wage America

Why do most people feel like they are struggling economically?  One obvious reason is that most people are working in lower paying jobs.  That is simply a reality.  Every time we pull up nationwide income data or median figures there is undoubtedly some that think it is way too low.  Yet this information is pulled from government sources like Social Security information, tax data, and the BLS.

Let us look at the top 10 occupations that employ Americans:

top occupations US

Source:  BLS

The top two fields are retail salesperson and cashiers.  Over 8 million Americans work in these two fields alone.  Which should be scary given the growing number of self-checkout stands we are seeing and more people shopping online.  Next we have food preparation and serving workers.  Combine these top three fields and we are now at 11 million American workers.  Next are office clerks.  The top four occupations in the US make up 14 million jobs and most of these jobs pay around $20,000.  Office clerks get a little bit more at $31,000 presumably because they are working a full work week (other positions may be part-time).

The only job on this entire list that has a livable wage is for registered nurses.  With an older population of baby boomers, we are needing lots of nurses. In total there are 2.7 million registered nurses in the US.  That number will grow with the health issues baby boomers will face with older age.

The final four are made up by waiters and waitresses, laborers and movers, secretaries/admin assistants, and janitors and cleaners.  In total 28.9 million people work in these 10 occupations.  It should tell you something about our economy that most people are working in low wage jobs (those that are able to get work).

Is this a good or bad thing?  I know some will argue that the market will dictate wages and that is the way things will be.  But is this truly a market?  The market was dictating that many banks fail just a few years ago yet the government stepped in to help the bankers out.  The market wanted to wash out the excesses in housing but the government stepped in here too.  Apparently having a low wage that will keep you on the low paycheck diet is perfectly fine (with no benefits either).

Many of these service sector jobs are also part-time in nature thus allowing the avoidance of paying for benefits.  Here are some interesting stats:

-In 1952, just four percent of people worked part-time.  Today it one in four.

-On average, workers did 48 hour work weeks in 1952.  Today it is 37 hours.

This goes hand and hand with our growing low wage sectors and the decrease in manufacturing base.  What does this say for the future of the middle class?

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7 Comments on this post


  1. Chris said:

    What does it say? It says:
    * Good paying jobs have been shipped overseas
    * Organizations are not stupid. W/ ObamaCare, keeping more PTer’s helps there bottom line. Why do you think the Labor Participation Rate so low?
    * Will only get worse since automation is growing rapidly affecting even more low to middle earners. Crap, I could see the day when robots will be conducting surgeries.

    March 7th, 2017 at 4:36 am
  2. Tommy Clark said:

    Average Teacher (State job) is mid to High $40,000s.
    Average Government Job is mid $50,000s.

    Total Income Taxes only pays 1/3 of Federal Government cost.

    The Federal government borrows the other two thirds to operate.

    President Trump better give up creating another entitlement (Health care) and start slashing whole government Agencies and Entitlements. And States better get their Education cost under control.

    We are closer to a Venezuela collapse than to recovery.

    This Global economy thing has not turned out to be beneficial to the USA. And I suspect rejecting the Christian God has a lot to do with our dcline.

    March 9th, 2017 at 7:19 am
  3. Sam said:

    People working for the government are paid much more than the private sector. Even a “dispatch operator” makes nearly $40,000.00 per year! www1 [dot] salary [dot] com/Middle-Income-Government-salaries [dot] html

    March 9th, 2017 at 8:50 am
  4. roddy6667 said:

    In the Eighties in Connecticut, the largest employer was United Technologies. They included Pratt & Whitney, Hamilton Standard, Otis Elevator, Carrier, Norden, and others. They had high pay, excellent benefits, and generous pensions. By the end of the Nineties the largest employer in the state was Boston-based Stop & Shop, a supermarket chain. They have mostly part-time employees, low pay, health insurance that sucks, which most of the employees can’t afford, and very few pensions, meager ones at that.

    March 11th, 2017 at 6:23 am
  5. Kathleen Shrum said:

    The government better quit subsidizing all those multinational corporations and it is time GE paid taxes. Also time to tax inherited wealth at the same rate or more as a salary. Time for the elite to pay their share.

    March 30th, 2017 at 9:17 am
  6. DearSX said:

    We have large systemic issues/problems. Capitalism gives opportunities but also has little remorse for inequality. Half the world is very very poor, capitalism does not discriminate.

    April 3rd, 2017 at 9:07 am
  7. Manny said:

    It would be interesting to see a time series of this data. So when did it start going south & how fast.

    My guess the down trend started in the 70’s – the offshore/ H1b visa tsunami is going to devastate the US. Welcome to 3rd world America.

    The state of CT is a joke – it;s even worse than the US overall. State Govt. has no idea how to grow the economy, keep jobs here & keep a balance between govt. services & taxes. Their answer is simply to raise taxes and fees. It takes them 15 years to even think about reducing costs – juts plot the state revenues & expenses by year. Huge gap in 2008 – revenues cratered but costs just kept going up as if nothing happened. CT just kept borrowing to fund the gap. It’s only the last couple of years that they even started talking about reducing costs. Perhaps the idiots should take a Finance 101 class at a community college.

    Of course the state pension fund coverage is bottom 5 in the country as well.

    April 4th, 2017 at 11:00 am


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