There’s a direct correlation between education and income. The median weekly wage for someone without a high school diploma is less than $600, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), while those with a doctoral degree earn $1,883. Every degree level up the scale from high school diploma to a PhD comes with a larger median salary, but there are plenty of jobs out there with no educational barriers.
Some are entry-level positions that involve long hours, grueling work, dangerous or at least dreary conditions, low pay, and very little room for career advancement. Others are stepping-stone jobs that pay a subsistence wage but can quickly lead to better positions. Others are real careers unto themselves, offering a living wage and then some. Nearly one in 10 of the jobs on this list pay more than the average annual wage across all jobs. The average annual wage for all workers in the United States is $53,490.
Stacker used data from the 2019 edition of the BLS’ Occupational Outlook Handbook , updated in April 2020, to compile a list of 94 jobs that do not have formal education requirements. These jobs are ranked by their average annual income, and ties are broken by the number of employees who work that job. BLS jobs with “all other” in the name were excluded since these are aggregates of several jobs, and salary data is less accurate than for specific jobs. Jobs that do not have a specific average annual salary were also excluded.
Jobs with the lowest educational barriers tend to pay the lowest wages with the fewest benefits. They also represent a hugely disproportionate chunk of the jobs lost to the coronavirus shutdown. Due to the BLS releasing data for the previous calendar year, these figures might not reflect economic changes caused by COVID-19.
The restaurant industry, in particular, was pummeled by the shutdown, and the future is uncertain for those who made their living in it. Bar and restaurant positions accounted for 60% of all job losses in March alone. Since then, total job losses in the industry far exceeded projections of 5 million to 7 million when the crisis started. That’s important to note because 10 of the first 20 jobs on this list—the lowest-paying but most common and easiest to get—are in the food and beverage industry.
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– Average annual wage: $22,910 (57.2% lower than average U.S. income)
Entry-level workers in the cosmetology field, shampooers prep salon clients before they sit down for a haircut or styling session. Ten-year job growth was projected at a strong 10% , but since they can’t work from home, many shampooers have seen their incomes dry up during the shutdown.
#90. Counter attendants, cafeteria, food concession, and coffee shop
– Average annual wage: $23,240 (56.6% lower than average U.S. income)
These workers serve pre-made food, drinks, and snacks from behind counters, like at bakeries, buffet lines, airports, and movie theaters. With those kinds of facilities and many others shut down, and their employees rarely fitting into the “essential worker” category, these kinds of food service workers were hit especially hard by the coronavirus shutdown, resulting in mental health challenges for this sector of workers.
#89. Combined food preparation and serving workers, including fast food
– Average annual wage: $23,250 (56.5% lower than average U.S. income)
These workers’ jobs are a bit more involved than counter attendants, with job duties often involving explaining menu items to customers, taking orders, serving food, and aiding in food prep. Their plight has been a mixed bag. While sit-down restaurants across the country have been closed, for example, fast-food establishments have mostly remained open.
#88. Cooks, fast food
– Average annual wage: $23,530 (56.0% lower than average U.S. income)
Fast-food cooks not only prepare and cook menu items, but they ensure freshness, quality, and adherence to safety standards. Unlike many food workers, fast-food employees have mostly been designated essential employees , so they tend to enjoy greater job security during the virus crisis compared to similar occupations, although they often risk greater exposure.
#87. Hosts and hostesses, restaurant, lounge, and coffee shop
– Average annual wage: $24,010 (55.1% lower than average U.S. income)
Hosts and hostesses arrange seating, take reservations, welcome guests, get them settled, hand out menus, and introduce servers to customers. With sit-down service off-limits in many of the country’s eateries for months, hosts and hostesses have suffered the brunt of the shutdown .
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#86. Amusement and recreation attendants
– Average annual wage: $24,330 (54.5% lower than average U.S. income)
The COVID crisis got real for many Americans when organizations like Disney and Six Flags shut down their parks in early spring. The attendants who run the rides, operate the games, and keep these and other amusement parks moving have largely been out of work. Presuming things do return to normal, projected job growth in the industry is a high 8% between 2018-28.
– Average annual wage: $24,400 (54.4% lower than average U.S. income)
Cashiers broker the exchange of goods or services for money, oversee exchanges and returns, and provide customer service at physical retail locations. Their occupation is on the decline, with BLS projecting negative job growth in the coming decade. They’re being pressed by the tide of online shopping, and self-checkout automation is thinning their ranks.
– Average annual wage: $24,410 (54.4% lower than average U.S. income)
Dishwashers clean, stock, and arrange dishes, cookware, and utensils, but they’re also often responsible for the hard work of keeping an entire commercial kitchen clean. According to Brookings, dishwashers face an especially uncertain fate , even by the battered restaurant industry standards. Huge numbers of open positions have disappeared, and dishwashers tend to be already-vulnerable recent immigrants.
#83. Pressers, textile, garment, and related materials
– Average annual wage: $24,820 (53.6% lower than average U.S. income)
Mostly because of the twin forces of outsourcing and automation, the writing has been on the wall for the American textile and garment industry for many years. Once a powerful force in the manufacturing sector, the industry is now well into a generational decline, and the future doesn’t look promising. The industry is expected to shed more than one in five remaining presser jobs between 2018 and 2028.
#82. Ushers, lobby attendants, and ticket takers
– Average annual wage: $24,870 (53.5% lower than average U.S. income)
Even before the shutdown, job growth in this category was projected to limp along at a slower-than-average 3% as ever-expanding home media options keep more and more people away from theaters. Now, with theaters closed over virus fears, packing people shoulder to shoulder in rows inside of a closed room for hours seems like a dated model. There is a wide consensus that some theaters and venues will survive—many have gone out of business altogether—but will have to adapt to a new reality, leaving ushers, lobby attendants, and ticket takers with an uncertain future.
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#81. Dining room and cafeteria attendants and bartender helpers
– Average annual wage: $25,020 (53.2% lower than average U.S. income)
Like hostesses, cooks, and dishwashers, it’s impossible not to view this category of the food, bar, and restaurant industry through the lens of the shutdown. Barbacks and dining room and cafeteria attendants are responsible mostly for prepping, cleaning, serving food, and stocking supplies. They’re out of work in huge numbers now, considering they deal almost exclusively with sit-down facilities, but job growth was projected at a strong 10% before the shutdown.
#80. Lifeguards, ski patrol, and other recreational protective service workers
– Average annual wage: $25,380 (52.6% lower than average U.S. income)
Recreational protective services employees like lifeguards and ski patrol workers monitor beaches, pools, and ski slopes; keep people within designated safe areas; enforce rules; provide assistance; and, when necessary, stage rescues and perform life-saving services. With fewer teens and college students working summer jobs, far more seniors have become lifeguards in recent years to stay active and earn money.
#79. Laundry and dry-cleaning workers
– Average annual wage: $25,420 (52.5% lower than average U.S. income)
These service workers operate dry cleaning and washing machines, fold and sort clothing and garments, as well as household items like linens, carpets, and draperies. They work in an industry that is experiencing extraordinary change almost across the board, which will probably affect employment in the long term. For example, some have seen a dramatic drop off in the hotel and hospitality business but a significant rise in business from hospitals during the shutdown.
#78. Food preparation workers
– Average annual wage: $25,820 (51.7% lower than average U.S. income)
Food preparation workers are employed to create on-demand offerings and pre-made food for other locations. This gives them a degree of job security, even during uncertain times. Those include not just restaurants and cafeterias, but hospitals, grocery stores, and nursing homes. The industry is expected to grow at a high rate of 8%, partly because high turnover keeps a steady flow of new positions open.
#77. Food servers, nonrestaurant
– Average annual wage: $26,080 (51.2% lower than average U.S. income)
Unlike the servers who take orders and bring food to sit-down customers at restaurants and bars, these servers deliver food to hospital rooms, hotel rooms, and similar spaces. They earn the most money in Hawaii, Washington D.C., New York, Alaska, and Arizona.
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#76. Cooks, short order
– Average annual wage: $26,240 (50.9% lower than average U.S. income)
Short-order cooks bridge the gap between fast-food joints and full-service restaurants. They work in establishments that prepare food quickly, like diners and coffee shops. It’s a job requiring multi-tasking skills and concentration, as short-order cooks frequently work on multiple orders simultaneously.
#75. Parking lot attendants
– Average annual wage: $26,450 (50.6% lower than average U.S. income)
Parking lot attendants take tickets, direct motorists to open spots, park cars themselves, and sometimes accept payments, although that last responsibility has largely been automated. Job growth for this occupation is expected to remain flat in the coming decade, with virtually no positions added or lost.
#74. Waiters and waitresses
– Average annual wage: $26,800 (49.9% lower than average U.S. income)
Traditional restaurant servers are the contact point between customers and the kitchen. Their job entails taking orders, communicating instructions about things like allergies to cooks, running food and drinks, accepting payments, and ensuring a good experience overall. Earning a living depends almost wholly on tips, which has been impossible recently for scores of servers, as they were among the first and worst affected by the economic shutdown.
#73. Maids and housekeeping cleaners
– Average annual wage: $26,810 (49.9% lower than average U.S. income)
Maids and housekeeping cleaners clean commercial spaces like hospitals, resorts, hotels, and private homes, apartments, boarding houses, and rental properties. During the shutdown, they’ve proven to be among the most vital and most vulnerable employees in America.
#72. Automotive and watercraft service attendants
– Average annual wage: $26,860 (49.8% lower than average U.S. income)
These service workers are mostly employed at places like gas stations, boat and car dealerships, bus and transit stations, and amusement and recreation facilities. They perform basic maintenance and perform tasks like changing oil and other vital fluids, replacing accessories, and refueling vehicles and watercraft.
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#71. Graders and sorters, agricultural products
– Average annual wage: $27,570 (48.5% lower than average U.S. income)
Not to be confused with agricultural inspectors, sorters and graders examine agricultural products after they’ve been harvested for things like conditions, color, and size to determine if they’re fit for market, and if so, which market. Because of technological innovation in the industry and the rise of agricultural automation, job growth is declining.
#70. Packers and packagers, hand
– Average annual wage: $27,680 (48.3% lower than average U.S. income)
Even in the age of automation, mountains of products of all kinds and types are still packaged by hand. The workers who perform that task toil across a vast range of industries and sectors, but most positions are in employment services, food and beverage, warehousing and storage, merchant wholesaling, and animal and slaughterhouse processing.
#69. Farmworkers and laborers, crop, nursery, and greenhouse
– Average annual wage: $27,780 (48.1% lower than average U.S. income)
The vast majority of America’s nearly 1 million agricultural workers fall into this category of employment. They perform duties of all kinds, including seeding, planting, transplanting, pruning, maintaining, irrigating, treating, and harvesting agricultural products of every stripe. They’re also sometimes required to maintain and work on the grounds themselves, including fixing fences, staking trees, and clearing land.
#68. Cleaners of vehicles and equipment
– Average annual wage: $27,940 (47.8% lower than average U.S. income)
The more than 373,000 people who clean vehicles and equipment work mostly at automotive repair and maintenance businesses, auto dealerships, auto rental companies, and charter bus companies. They also serve businesses like those in the coal and animal slaughter industries.
#67. Sewing machine operators
– Average annual wage: $28,000 (47.7% lower than average U.S. income)
The ability to be precise and consistent during long periods of tedium is crucial to this line of work, which involves manufacturing, embellishing, decorating, joining, or reinforcing both garment and non-garment textiles, fabrics, and other materials. Like so many other categories in the garment and textile industry, sewing machine operators face a steep long-term downturn. Job growth is projected at -12% over the next decade.
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– Average annual wage: $28,000 (47.7% lower than average U.S. income)
Bartenders —whose ranks have been devastated by the recent shutdown—mix, make, and serve drinks. They interact either directly with customers or indirectly through servers, often under pressure in a busy atmosphere. They have to learn and remember a wide variety of drink recipes and be knowledgeable about the many different kinds of beer, wine, liquor, cordials, and other adult beverages. The work is slanted toward personable people who are comfortable working while surrounded by crowds of people drinking alcohol.
#65. Gaming change persons and booth cashiers
– Average annual wage: $28,010 (47.6% lower than average U.S. income)
These workers aren’t cashiers in the retail sense, but they do exchange money for things like coin change, tokens, tickets, and credits. The work doesn’t require formal schooling, but it does require basic math skills—like retail cashiers, booth cashiers and change personnel are responsible for the cash in their drawers at the end of their shifts.
#64. Cooks, restaurant
– Average annual wage: $28,700 (46.3% lower than average U.S. income)
Restaurant cooks prepare and cook food ordered by patrons, often on an individual basis, and sometimes order and stock supplies. They have to endure long hours in hot kitchens and prepare meals quickly and precisely under considerable pressure. Like all restaurant workers, their jobs have been washed away in droves by the shutdown, but between 2018 and 2028, job growth for the profession had been projected at a strong 11%.
#63. Meat, poultry, and fish cutters and trimmers
– Average annual wage: $28,810 (46.1% lower than average U.S. income)
This occupation involves the difficult, dirty, and tedious work of using hand tools to trim cuts of meat, fish, and poultry before it heads to market. The animal slaughter and processing industry employs the largest number of them by far, but they’re most heavily concentrated in the seafood product, preparation, and packaging industry.
#62. Cooks, institution and cafeteria
– Average annual wage: $29,030 (45.7% lower than average U.S. income)
These cooks are found behind the lines in places like schools, hospitals, businesses, and cafeterias. They generally produce a few pre-set menu items in large quantities. Job growth in the field is projected at 5% over 10 years.
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#61. Retail salespersons
– Average annual wage: $29,360 (45.1% lower than average U.S. income)
Many retail salespeople work in clothing and accessories stores, where they help customers find what they’re looking for, but this category also includes people who work in furniture stores, bookstores, shoe stores, cosmetics stores, electronics stores, and many other retail industries. Their industry is on the decline, with 2% of current jobs expected to disappear between 2018-2028.
#60. Slaughterers and meatpackers
– Average annual wage: $29,600 (44.7% lower than average U.S. income)
This line of work is notoriously difficult, both physically and psychologically. Unlike trimmers and cutters who deal with processed meat, slaughterers and meatpackers kill live animals, often intimately and up close, and/or separate their bodies into cuts of meat shortly after slaughter. The coronavirus shutdown has highlighted the essential nature of their work and their plight —they’re much more likely to be physically injured on the job or suffer work-related mental trauma than the larger population.
– Average annual wage: $29,630 (44.6% lower than average U.S. income)
Bakers create the pastries, bread, pies, and other baked goods that people eat before, during, after, and in between meals. They might work in commercial or production bakeries, which mass-produce baked goods in high volume. Retail bakers work in places like grocery stores, restaurants, and, of course, bakeries.
– Average annual wage: $29,770 (44.3% lower than average U.S. income)
America’s much-maligned telemarketers provide a critical service to a sprawling range of industries. The overwhelming majority, however—nearly 100,000 out of roughly 164,000 in total—work in business support services. They’re facing a steep decline in job growth of -17% over 10 years, largely to outsourcing.
#57. Farmworkers, farm, ranch, and aquacultural animals
– Average annual wage: $29,880 (44.1% lower than average U.S. income)
This category of agricultural workers tends to live animals, work that could include anything from benign activities like watering, grazing, and feeding to more gruesome duties like branding, debeaking, and castrating. Texas employs more than twice as many of these workers than California, the #2 state.
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#56. Motion picture projectionists
– Average annual wage: $29,890 (44.1% lower than average U.S. income)
New technology is rendering the traditional job of motion picture projectionist obsolete. There are fewer than 5,000 of them left in the entire country, and that number is shrinking. About 12% of the remaining projectionist jobs are expected to disappear over the coming decade.
#55. Janitors and cleaners, except maids and housekeeping cleaners
– Average annual wage: $30,010 (43.9% lower than average U.S. income)
A huge plurality of janitors and non-maid/housekeeping cleaners —883,270 out of 2,156,270—service commercial buildings and dwellings. For context, the #2 workspace for janitors and cleaners, schools, employs 320,670 of them. Far behind those workplaces are real estate operations, post-secondary education institutions, and local governments, not including schools and hospitals.
#54. Sewers, hand
– Average annual wage: $31,020 (42.0% lower than average U.S. income)
Like sewing machine operators, hand sewers provide stitching for a variety of manufactured items, but they do it by hand with a needle and thread. Also, like sewing machine operators, the field is on a downward spiral. About 9% of the positions available in 2018 are expected to disappear by 2028.
#53. Laborers and freight, stock, and material movers, hand
– Average annual wage: $32,130 (39.9% lower than average U.S. income)
This line of work represents a huge majority of hand laborers and material movers—they represent nearly 3 million of the 4.2 million jobs in the field. They move materials of all kinds to and from ships, trucks, loading docks, containers, and, most frequently, warehouses.
#52. Cutters and trimmers, hand
– Average annual wage: $32,340 (39.5% lower than average U.S. income)
These laborers use both power tools and hand tools to cut materials like stone, carpet, rubber, glass, and fabric. This kind of finishing work in the manufacturing sector is drying up. There were already fewer than 11,000 positions in 2018, and by 2028, 3,000 more are expected to disappear for a net loss of 28%.
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#51. Landscaping and groundskeeping workers
– Average annual wage: $32,360 (39.5% lower than average U.S. income)
This line of work , which involves physically taxing labor and extended exposure to the elements, takes place anywhere that natural landscapes are altered for aesthetics. Landscapers and groundskeepers mow lawns and lay sod everywhere from suburban homes to athletic fields, and water, weed, plant, prune, treat, fertilize, and irrigate living landscapes everywhere from government buildings to amusement parks. They also build and maintain non-living features like masonry walls—long-term job growth is projected at 9%.
#50. Counter and rental clerks
– Average annual wage: $32,600 (39.1% lower than average U.S. income)
Counter and rental clerks receive and process orders for not just rentals, but service and repairs. They’re in a different category than those who perform similar duties in motels, hotels, and resorts, or at transportation and travel ticket counters.
#49. Crossing guards
– Average annual wage: $32,920 (38.5% lower than average U.S. income)
Crossing guards provide pedestrians safety by changing, interrupting, or otherwise guiding vehicle traffic at danger points like crosswalks, railroad tracks, construction sites, and, most familiarly, near schools. This kind of work requires long periods of standing and involves exposure to the elements.
#48. Helpers—painters, paperhangers, plasterers, and stucco masons
– Average annual wage: $32,930 (38.4% lower than average U.S. income)
Most tradespeople—in this case, painters, paperhangers, plasterers, and stucco masons—have “helpers,” laborers who contribute to projects by performing necessary, but low-skill work. They’re not apprentices, and they’re categorized differently than construction laborers. They perform tasks like cleaning tools and workspaces and gathering supplies and equipment.
#47. Machine feeders and offbearers
– Average annual wage: $33,010 (38.3% lower than average U.S. income)
As the name implies, machine feeders and offbearers feed materials into and/or remove materials from manufacturing equipment. They usually don’t operate the machines themselves—that’s higher-skilled, higher-paid work done by machine operators. Job growth is expected to remain flat through 2028.
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#46. Grinding and polishing workers, hand
– Average annual wage: $33,060 (38.2% lower than average U.S. income)
Like so many jobs that involve finishing work in the manufacturing sector, hand grinders and polishers are a dying breed. The field—which involves using hand tools or hand-held power tools to polish, buff, sand, or grind any number of materials and products—is expected to hemorrhage nearly one in five of its current jobs by 2028.
#45. Agricultural equipment operators
– Average annual wage: $33,300 (37.7% lower than average U.S. income)
From balers and combines to trucks and tractors, agricultural equipment operators use heavy machinery for every application where they’re needed, including sowing, harvesting, irrigating, spraying, cleaning, drying, loading, and conveying. With projected job growth of 10% by 2028, they have the best prospects among all agricultural workers by far.
– Average annual wage: $33,350 (37.7% lower than average U.S. income)
Roofers are among the many tradespeople who employ helpers to do vital, but low-skill work like carrying supplies from rooftops to the ground, holding and arranging ladders, and cleaning tools, workspaces, and equipment. The field is booming, with job growth projected at a high 13% over 10 years.
– Average annual wage: $33,830 (36.8% lower than average U.S. income)
Carpenters helpers do similar work, but as it pertains to the field of carpentry specifically. They, too, work in an expanding field. 10-year job growth is projected at 12%.
#42. Food and tobacco roasting, baking, and drying machine operators and tenders
– Average annual wage: $33,880 (36.7% lower than average U.S. income)
Tobacco and certain consumables, like coffee, fall into a category separate from standard agriculture. This specialty occupation involves using machines to process those goods by roasting, baking, curing, or drying before they’re ready for consumer purchase.
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#41. Butchers and meat cutters
– Average annual wage: $34,010 (36.4% lower than average U.S. income)
Butchers and meat cutters receive and inspect roughly-processed meat, and then refine it into sellable cuts through cutting, slicing, deboning, and grinding. They might do this in bulk at grocery stores or butcher shops, or on a request-by-request basis for individual customers. They also wrap, weigh, sort, and display the meat products they work with.
#40. Tailors, dressmakers, and custom sewers
– Average annual wage: $34,530 (35.4% lower than average U.S. income)
Unlike sewing machine operators and hand sewers, tailors, dressmakers, and custom sewers don’t work in large-scale manufacturing. Instead, they do custom work for individual customers, like those preparing for weddings or buying a new suit. Their field is in decline, with 6% of the current positions expected to dry up by 2028.
#39. Door-to-door sales workers, news and street vendors, and related workers
– Average annual wage: $35,150 (34.3% lower than average U.S. income)
There was a time when knocks from door-to-door salespeople were commonplace, as was the sight of people lined up to buy newspapers from street vendors. The proliferation of easy-access online buying and digital media has changed all that. These kinds of jobs are expected to disappear at a rate of 7% by 2028.
#38. Parts salespersons
– Average annual wage: $35,220 (34.2% lower than average U.S. income)
Parts salespersons work mostly in the automotive industry, taking orders and checking inventory in either auto dealerships or automotive parts stores. More than a quarter-million of them still earn a living in the field, but the occupation is shrinking due to automation.
#37. Demonstrators and product promoters
– Average annual wage: $35,320 (34.0% lower than average U.S. income)
A more hands-on type of sales position, demonstrators and product promoters drum up interest in merchandise by showing how products work and what they can do in a physical space like a store, an exhibition, or a trade show. Demand for this work is growing at an about-average pace, as 10-year job growth is projected at 5%.
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#36. Painting, coating, and decorating workers
– Average annual wage: $35,600 (33.4% lower than average U.S. income)
These workers put the finishing touches on things like books, furniture, pottery, glass, and toys. The field is not expected to grow many jobs in the coming decades, but it’s not expected to lose many, either.
#35. Conveyor operators and tenders
– Average annual wage: $36,150 (32.4% lower than average U.S. income)
These workers use conveyor belts—often regulating the conveyor’s speed depending on the application—to shuttle materials to and from things like vehicles, depots, stockpiles, and processing stations. Many work with raw materials for merchant wholesalers and farming operations, but most deal with documents for courier and express delivery services.
– Average annual wage: $36,430 (31.9% lower than average U.S. income)
Models promote services and products like clothing, cars, cereal, toothpaste, and just about anything people buy and sell. They pose for photographers, artists, and videographers, and are often required to travel, maintain a portfolio, and spend long hours preparing for shoots with stylists, wardrobe directors, and makeup artists.
#33. Bus drivers, school or special client
– Average annual wage: $37,330 (30.2% lower than average U.S. income)
School bus drivers are entrusted with transporting precious cargo in the form of America’s youth to their schools and back from designated pickup stops. They also haul kids to outside activities like field trips and sporting events. For obvious reasons, they must have clean driving records, pass background checks, and follow strict safety protocols.
#32. Rock splitters, quarry
– Average annual wage: $37,390 (30.1% lower than average U.S. income)
Quarry work is not for everyone. Few jobs are more physically taxing than the hard work of using jackhammers and wedges to cut and haul stone slabs from solid quarry mass, while working outside exposed to the elements.
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#31. Industrial truck and tractor operators
– Average annual wage: $37,930 (29.1% lower than average U.S. income)
With the exception of logging equipment, these workers operate industrial vehicles of almost all kinds. They work mostly in warehouses, but they also move merchandise and materials at construction sites, factories, and storage yards.
#30. Helpers—brickmasons, blockmasons, stonemasons, and tile and marble setters
– Average annual wage: $38,440 (28.1% lower than average U.S. income)
The masonry industry is expected to add 2,600 new jobs specific to this helper position by 2028—that’s a big increase of 11%. Like all the other helper jobs, this kind of work involves low-skill labor like cleaning tools and workspaces and gathering materials and equipment.
#29. Tile and marble setters
– Average annual wage: $38,440 (28.1% lower than average U.S. income)
These workers use special saws to cut modular flooring pieces made from materials like glass, ceramic, and stone, and then affix them to floors with mortar or a similar material. They’re in high demand, with job growth projected at an impressive 18% by 2028.
#28. Fence erectors
– Average annual wage: $38,600 (27.8% lower than average U.S. income)
As the title implies, fence erectors put up fences, but they also install gates and service and repair both. Fencing is hard, physical work that takes place outside, but those who do it enjoy a good degree of job security. Job growth is projected to hit 10% by 2028.
#27. Craft artists
– Average annual wage: $38,740 (27.6% lower than average U.S. income)
From weaving and painting to knitting and glassblowing, craft artists create original works of art for display, for sale, or both. Most are either self-employed, work for the government, or are employed by the movie and sound recording industries. There’s no specific educational requirement, but it does take talent—and lots of on-the-job learning.
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#26. Roustabouts, oil and gas
– Average annual wage: $41,280 (22.8% lower than average U.S. income)
Roustabouts do the hard work of assembling and repairing oil field equipment. As America’s energy industry continues to expand, reliable roustabouts are in demand. The field is projected to add new jobs at a very high rate of 15% over 10 years.
#25. Refuse and recyclable material collectors
– Average annual wage: $41,400 (22.6% lower than average U.S. income)
Garbage and recyclable collectors do the hard, dirty work of making the rounds on trash and recycling day. They physically empty containers into trucks—which they frequently have to jog to keep up with—on both residential and commercial routes. It usually takes place early in the morning regardless of the weather, and can be dangerous—it involves enormous compactors, hydraulic lifts, and clinging to the sides of moving vehicles.
#24. Construction laborers
– Average annual wage: $41,730 (22.0% lower than average U.S. income)
Like helpers, construction laborers are low-skilled workers who do things like clean workspaces, remove debris, and carry tools and equipment. However, they’re more likely to participate directly in projects through tasks like operating tools and even surveying equipment or directing traffic, in the case of roadside construction projects.
#23. Floor sanders and finishers
– Average annual wage: $42,300 (20.9% lower than average U.S. income)
Floor sanders and finishers are among the last people to touch floor installation projects once they’re done. After carpenters install floors, these workers sand, stain, and seal them. The field is expected to expand by 10% in the coming decade.
– Average annual wage: $43,600 (18.5% lower than average U.S. income)
Pipelayers do the exhausting work of grading culverts and trenches, sealing joints, and laying and positioning pipe in environments like underground water mains, sewers, and storm drains. Like so many other entry-level trades jobs, they’re currently in demand. Long-term job growth is projected at a very high 12%.
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– Average annual wage: $44,470 (16.9% lower than average U.S. income)
Most paperhangers work in one of two environments. Some put up decorative wallpaper in homes, offices, and other occupied structures. Others do commercial work installing posters or billboards.
#20. Painters, construction and maintenance
– Average annual wage: $44,640 (16.5% lower than average U.S. income)
These kinds of painters apply aesthetic and/or protective stains, paints, and other coatings to structures like bridges, machinery, equipment, and buildings. Painting and wall covering contractors employ the largest percentage of them.
#19. Insulation workers, floor, ceiling, and wall
– Average annual wage: $45,100 (15.7% lower than average U.S. income)
These workers install insulation materials in gaps between ceiling joists and wall studs to prevent structural thermal transfer. The work often takes place in cramped spaces like attics and crawl spaces, and often requires protective equipment.
#18. Carpet installers
– Average annual wage: $45,320 (15.3% lower than average U.S. income)
Separate from floor layers, carpet installers put down padding and trim materials, often after removing old carpeting first. Then they install new carpeting from either blocks or rolls in commercial and residential structures.
– Average annual wage: $45,820 (14.3% lower than average U.S. income)
Like quarrying and fencing, the physically-demanding job of roofing is not for everyone. The work involves heavy lifting, climbing to sometimes-extreme heights, and long hours of bending and kneeling. Also, the busiest season for roof work is during the hot summer months. However, with projected job growth of 12%, people who can tolerate it have good long-term job prospects.
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#16. Tank car, truck, and ship loaders
– Average annual wage: $47,580 (11.0% lower than average U.S. income)
Most of what these laborers do is the work of moving materials like grain, sand, gravel, chemicals, and coal onto and off of ships, trucks, and tank cars. Other times, they might do miscellaneous industry-related work, like testing containers for leaks.
#15. Derrick operators, oil and gas
– Average annual wage: $48,030 (10.2% lower than average U.S. income)
Arguably the ultimate in dirty work, oil and gas derrick operators operate the pumps that are used to circulate mud through drill holes. Like so many other entry-level energy jobs, the field is expanding dramatically. Job growth is projected at a very high 17% over 10 years.
#14. Cement masons and concrete finishers
– Average annual wage: $48,330 (9.6% lower than average U.S. income)
Cement masons pour, mix, level, and reinforce concrete on surfaces like steps and sidewalks. Concrete finishers put on the final touches, like coloring, texturing, painting, or adding exposed stones. They, too, are in high demand, with long-term job growth projected at 11%.
#13. Floor layers, except carpet, wood, and hard tiles
– Average annual wage: $48,610 (9.1% lower than average U.S. income)
Building finishing contractors employ the largest percentage by far of people who do this kind of work . They install materials to flooring that deaden sound, absorb shock, or simply look nice.
#12. Plasterers and stucco masons
– Average annual wage: $49,710 (7.1% lower than average U.S. income)
These employees work on both commercial and residential structures, and they also do both interior and exterior work. Not only do they install stucco, cement, and plaster, but also sometimes ornamental plaster.
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#11. Drywall and ceiling tile installers
– Average annual wage: $50,560 (5.5% lower than average U.S. income)
Drywallers cut wallboard to specific measurements and secure the segments in place. Ceiling tile installers create suspended ceilings by hanging tiles directly to ceilings, furring strips, or suspension runners connected to wires.
#10. Service unit operators, oil, gas, and mining
– Average annual wage: $51,390 (3.9% lower than average U.S. income)
This kind of work, which pays comfortably into the $50,000s on average, is unusual, but critical and profitable. It includes fishing-tool techs because much of the job entails fishing out obstructions from oil-producing wells, like casings, tools, debris, and piping. As with so many widely-available energy-industry positions, it’s in high demand—10-year job growth is projected at a very high 13%.
#9. Sailors and marine oilers
– Average annual wage: $53,250 (0.4% lower than average U.S. income)
Also called deckhands , sailors maintain and operate virtually every part of a waterborne vessel except the components that deal with the engine and propulsion. That job is left to marine oilers, who work in a ship’s engine room doing things like lubricating gears and taking temperature and pressure readings.
#8. Mine shuttle car operators
– Average annual wage: $53,730 (0.4% higher than average U.S. income)
This occupation is not for the claustrophobic or those who fear subterranean exploration. The workers who do it drive electric or diesel shuttle cars into underground mines to transport excavated materials to conveyors or mine cars. Like many positions in the mining industry, these jobs are disappearing—they make more than the average American now, but 25% of current jobs are expected to dry up by 2028.
#7. Loading machine operators, underground mining
– Average annual wage: $53,730 (0.4% higher than average U.S. income)
The people who load excavated materials from underground mines onto mine shuttle cars are called loading machine operators . The rapidly-declining coal industry employs the largest percentage of them by far, so it’s likely that many of these jobs won’t be available for years to come.
#6. Continuous mining machine operators
– Average annual wage: $56,530 (5.7% higher than average U.S. income)
These miners operate the equipment that physically tears material like ore, coal, metal, stone, and rock directly from the mine face right where the work is advancing. The self-propelled machines they operate then load those materials onto shuttle cars or conveyors without stopping excavation work.
#5. Rotary drill operators, oil and gas
– Average annual wage: $57,070 (6.7% higher than average U.S. income)
Rotary drill operators use different drills to extract gas and oil from underground. They also sometimes extract core samples during exploration for testing. Like many of their lower-level energy-industry colleagues, they’re riding an occupational wave. They earn significantly more than the average American, and 10-year job growth is projected at an excellent 15%.
– Average annual wage: $61,550 (15.1% higher than average U.S. income)
Tapers prepare drywall before it’s painted, plastered, or papered—they’re sometimes called finishers. They make the best money by far in the drywall/ceiling tile installation segment of the construction industry, but their 10-year job growth projections are tied with the rest at a mediocre 2%.
#3. Farm labor contractors
– Average annual wage: $62,060 (16.0% higher than average U.S. income)
These recruiters vet, organize, hire, and sometimes feed, house, and transport temporary and seasonal workers for agricultural labor. It pays well, but job growth for the position is projected to hit 8% by 2028.
#2. Hoist and winch operators
– Average annual wage: $62,690 (17.2% higher than average U.S. income)
The largest percentage of hoist and winch operators by far support the water transportation industry. They’re not crane and tower operators, but they do use massive power cable equipment to lift heavy loads.
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#1. Athletes and sports competitors
– Average annual wage: $93,140 (74.1% higher than average U.S. income)
There are some jobs with low education barriers that people can just apply for—others, not so much. One of them is professional athletics, which doesn’t necessarily require a diploma, but does require years of dedication and extraordinary physical gifts. The vast majority of even those who come to the table with both never find a way to make it pay.
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