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Ranking occupational earnings.

Which occupations pay the most? How do earnings in my occupation compare with those in occupations having similar education or training requirements? Do I presently earn more or less than average for all workers employed in my occupation? How do the top wages in my occupation compare with those paid in other occupations? These questions are often asked by people planning careers or career changes and others.

The only source of information that provides current earnings data for a broad spectrum of occupations is the Current Population Survey (CPS). The CPS is a survey of 60,000 households conducted monthly by the Bureau of the Census for the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It provides data on the median weekly earnings of wage and salary workers who usually work full time, including overtime pay, commissions, or tips received. Note that only wage and salary workers are included in this discussion. Average earnings in occupations with large numbers of self-employed workers may be higher than indicated here (as is the case with physicians) or lower (as is the case with writers).

Median Weekly Earnings in 1989

The table lists the 1989 median weekly earnings in 224 occupations, ranked highest to lowest. Half of the workers in each occupation earned less than the median and half earned more. The occupations are divided into quintiles, or fifths. Occupations listed first had the highest earnings.

Not surprisingly, occupations ranked in the top fifth usually require a college degree; these include engineer, computer systems analyst, and public relations specialist. Several other occupations require a professional or graduate degree, including physician, lawyer, and education administrator. However, many of these occupations require less schooling--for example, airline pilot and navigator, the second highest ranked occupation, does not require a college degree although many pilots are college graduates. High-paying occupations that do not require 4 years of college usually require some other kind of training. For example, most tool and die makers complete a 4- or 5-year formal apprenticeship, and stationary engineers are often trained through a 4-year formal apprenticeship or are trained on the job and take courses at a trade school.

Lawyers have by far the highest median earnings; their earnings were more than 20 percent greater than the second ranked occupation, airline pilot and navigator.

Workers in occupations ranked in the second fifth have widely varying educational backgrounds and training. Psychologists, for example, generally need a graduate degree--usually a doctorate--for entry, while elementary school teachers need at least a bachelor's degree. On the other hand, some legal assistants complete formal postsecondary programs ranging in length from a few months to 4 years, and mail carriers do not even need a high school diploma if they are at least 18 years of age.

The median earnings of occupations the second fifth are clustered more than those in the top fifth. Financial records processing supervisors, the highest ranked occupation in this group, typically earn 25 percent more than production coordinators, the lowest ranked occupation.

Occupations with earnings ranked in the middle fifth require primarily apprenticeships or on-the-job training. For example, carpenters complete 3- or 4-years apprenticeships while automobile mechanics generally learn on the job, although formal training programs are increasing in importance. Exceptions include radiologic technicians, who normally complete 2 years of postsecondary training, and statistical clerks and transportation and ticket reservation agents, who usually need a high school diploma for entry. A few occupations in this fifth require a bachelor's degree for entry--social worker and kindergarten teacher, for example.

Social workers, the highest ranked occupation in this fifth, typically earn more than 20 percent more than dispatchers, the lowest ranked occupation--a slightly smaller gap than appealed in the second fifth.

Occupations with earnings ranked in the next to lowest fifth require, for the most part, only a high school education--for instance, record clerk; telephone operator; data-entry keyer; and bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerk. Licensed practical nurses normally have 1 year of postsecondary training. Some occupations--such as photographer, painting and paint spraying machine operator, and construction laborer--require no formal training.

Licensed practical nurses, the highest ranked occupation in this fifth, typically earn 20 percent more than nonconstruction laborers, the lowest ranked occupation.

Occupations with earnings ranked in the bottom fifth have no education prerequisites or require only a high school diploma or some specialized formal training. Examples of occupations not usually requiring a high school education include maid and houseman, janitor and cleaner, and farm worker. Those usually requiring a high school diploma include file clerk and bank teller. Those requiring specialized formal training include dental assistants, who train for 1 year or less, and hairdressers and cosmetologists, who train for 6 months to 1 year.

Hardware and building supplies sales workers, the highest ranked occupation in this fifth, typically earn more than twice as much as private household child care workers, the lowest ranked occupation, the largest relative difference of any fifth in the table.

Consistency of Rankings, 1983-89

How consistent are the occupational earnings rankings year to year? To find out, CPS data for each year from 1983 to 1989 were examined. The results of the analysis show a great deal of stability in regard to which fifth an occupation was in. Overall, 141 of the 244 occupations remained in the same fifth, 43 occupations were in a different fifth only once, and 60 occupations changed fifths more than once. Most of the movement took place in the middle three fifths.

Comparing Top Earnings

Column 2 of the table shows the lowest earnings among the top 10 percent of workers in each occupation. The to 10 percent of workers in 25 out of the top 27 occupations after lawyers--which, as mentioned earlier, had the highest median earnings--earned more than the median for lawyers, indicating the importance of advancement gained through performance and seniority. The same point is brought by a look at the high earnings of the occupations in the second quintile. The top 10 percent of workers in every occupation in the second quintile had higher earnings than the median for 21 occupations in the first quintile.

When occupations are ranked by the earnings of the highest paid 10 percent of workers, the result is not the same as for median earnings. For example, securities and financial services sales workers ranked 3rd among the highest paid 10 percent of workers but 26th based on median earnings. Real estate sales workers ranked 9th among the highest paid 10 percent of workers but only68th in median earnings. And actors and directors, ranking 12th among the top paid workers, were 77th in median earnings.

To learn more about earnings in a large variety of occupations, consult the Occupational Outlook Handbook. The Handbook also contains information for each occupation on the nature of the work, the education and training required, and the job outlook. Copies are available in public libraries and the offices of school counselors and employment counselors. [Tabular Data Omitted] Steven Hitchcock is an economist in the Office of Employment Projections, BLS.
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Author:Hitchcock, Steven
Publication:Occupational Outlook Quarterly
Date:Sep 22, 1990
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