These everyday jobs pay almost nothing, but there are more lucrative alternatives that could require some of the same skills.
Do you envision your next career bringing you status, respect, or fulfillment? Whatever your professional aspirations or interests, there's likely one label you don't want associated with your new occupation: one of the lowest-paying jobs in America.
Unfortunately for Americans, there are plenty of low-paying jobs out there. Just how low is low? For our purposes, we're drawing the line at $25K a year, which is well below the national average of $45,790, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
The good news is there are many careers that might require similar skills but offer much better pay - sometimes even double. Keep reading to learn how to avoid some of the lowest-paying jobs in America, and how to instead switch gears for some better-paying alternatives.
Low-Paying Career #1: Childcare Worker
Median Annual Salary: $19,510*
This occupation could be the poster child for underappreciated careers - both in terms of perception and salary. Childcare workers are responsible for bathing, feeding, and introducing infants and toddlers to basic concepts, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
And yet despite the important care they provide, society doesn't value them the way an occupation like teacher is valued, says Mary Jeanne Vincent, a career expert and career advice columnist for the Monterey County Herald in California.
Higher-Paying Alternative: Elementary School Teacher
Median Annual Salary: $53,400*
Bottom 10 Percent of Earners: $35,630*
Top 10 Percent of Earners: $83,160*
Consider this: The median annual salary reported by the Department of Labor for elementary school teachers - $53,400 - is more than double that of childcare workers. There are some obvious differences between the two occupations, but Vincent says that the strong pay for teachers is due, in part, to the secondary education required for the job.
Teachers also shoulder additional responsibilities. According to the Department, teachers typically plan lessons, teach and assess students, and help students overcome weaknesses.
Next step: Click to Find the Right Education Program.
Education Options: Elementary school teachers must at least have a bachelor's degree in elementary education and are also required to have a state-issued certification or license to work at a public school, the Department reports. Some states may require teachers to major in a content area as well.
Low-Paying Career #2: Product Promoter
Median Annual Salary: $23,860*
You know the guy at your favorite supermarket who can't wait to show you the knives that cut through pennies? Guess what: He probably isn't nearly as enthusiastic about his salary.
Product promoters try to create public interest in products like household cleaners, computer software, and cosmetics, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. So why doesn't it pay? The occupation is typically low-paying because employers usually only require a high school diploma and don't require extensive knowledge of the product, Vincent says.
Higher-Paying Alternative: Market Research Analyst
Median Annual Salary: $60,300*
Bottom 10 Percent of Earners: $33,280*
Top 10 Percent of Earners: $113,500*
On the other side of the coin, market research analysts are paid quite well to delve into the details - like where that product promoter should be placed to generate the most interest, says Vincent. They're also paid for offering up such advice proactively, Vincent says.
To be more specific, market research analysts study the conditions in a given market to determine the best price for a product or service and how well it might sell, according to the Department of Labor.
Education Options: Typically, you'll need at least a bachelor's degree in market research or a related field to pursue this career. You could also major in another area, as the Department says many have pursued degrees in computer science, math, and statistics, while others may have a background in one of the social sciences, business administration, or communications. Top positions frequently require a master's degree.
Low-Paying Career #3: Host or Hostess
Median Annual Salary: $18,580*
The folks who kindly show you to your seat at a restaurant unfortunately aren't shown much love when it comes to their salaries. Hosts and hostesses often are responsible for welcoming guests and escorting them to the waiting area, taking reservations, and maintaining waiting lists, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
Yet despite their seemingly limitless duties, they are limited in the level of decisions they are permitted to make - which translates to limited pay, Vincent explains. "You may have a hostess who is very good at her job, but the perception is that it's kind of a passive role," she says.
Higher-Paying Alternative: Event Planner
Median Annual Salary: $45,810*
Bottom 10 Percent of Earners: $26,560*
Top 10 Percent of Earners: $79,270*
But if you help someone else be the host, so to speak, your salary could more than double.
The higher salary of an event planner usually reflects a higher level of responsibility, Vincent says. How much responsibility? According to the Department of Labor, event planners often handle important details like the timing and cost of an event, as well as soliciting bids for service providers and inspecting locations to make sure they meet the clients' needs.
Education Options: Many employers prefer candidates with related work experience and at least a bachelor's degree, the Department says. And while these professionals may come from different academic backgrounds, common majors may include hospitality management, public relations, marketing, business, and communications.
Low-Paying Career #4: Personal Care Aide
Median Annual Salary: $19,910*
This occupation can take a lot of heart and patience, but doesn't give much in return, financially speaking. Personal care aides help people who have a physical or mental impairment or are chronically ill, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
They might help clients with daily tasks - like bathing, dressing, housekeeping, or making appointments, according to the Department of Labor. And while in some states they might perform medical services like administering medicine or checking vitals, they do so under the supervision of a nurse or other health care provider. That fact is an important one, as its likely to blame for the occupation's low pay when compared with other health-related careers, Vincent notes.
Higher-Paying Alternative: Registered Nurse
Median Annual Salary: $65,470*
Bottom 10 Percent of Earners: $45,040*
Top 10 Percent of Earners: $94,720*
Registered nurses, however, offer an expanded scope of services and are in-demand - and that means more money, Vincent says. According to the Department, registered nurses not only provide patient care but also are responsible for providing advice and emotional support.
Additionally, nurses may be in high demand in certain parts of the country. According to the Department, organizations in some regions that have trouble attracting and holding onto registered nurses may offer "signing bonuses and other incentives."
Next step: Click to Find the Right Nursing Program.
Education Options: Registered nurses typically earn either a bachelor's of science in nursing, an associate's degree in nursing, or a diploma through an approved nursing program, according to the Department. They also must have a license.
Low-Paying Career #5: Bank Teller
Median Annual Salary: $24,940*
Although thousands of dollars may go through a bank teller's hands on any given day, this occupation doesn't bring in the big bucks.
Tellers typically handle cashing checks, depositing money, and taking care of other routine customer requests at banks, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. But because they aren't responsible for making tough decisions or offering advice and have to defer to a supervisor, it's usually a low-paying position, Vincent says.
Higher-Paying Alternative: Accountant
Median Annual Salary: $63,550*
Bottom 10 Percent of Earners: $39,930*
Top 10 Percent of Earners: $111,510*
While tellers handle routine transactions, according to the Department of Labor, common duties for an accountant include reviewing and examining financial records and checking them for accuracy and compliance with laws and regulations.
In other words, the buck actually does stop at accountants' desks, and that's why they earn more, Vincent points out. "They're going to be the one giving people advice about what to do with their money," she says.
Next step: Click to Find the Right Accounting Program.
Education Options: A bachelor's degree in accounting or a related field is required for most accountant positions, according to the Department. However, some employers might prefer those candidates with a master's degree in accounting, or in business administration with a concentration in accounting.
* All salary data is from the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2012.
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