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The Lowest Paying Jobs in the U.S.

Welcome to the Era of Low-Paying Jobs


The job market may be gradually improving in the U.S., but for many Americans, good jobs are still hard to come by.

Of the 10 occupations that employed the most Americans in May 2010, just one (registered nurse) paid an annual salary that exceeded the national average of $44,410, according to a new wage report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The rest of these occupations, which included positions like office clerks and food prep workers, often fell far short of what the average job would pay.

As previous studies have pointed out, low-paying jobs are typically the first to return after a recession, in part because businesses are more hesitant to sign contracts with higher-paid workers. Moreover, many of the sectors that typically offered better-paying jobs, like the financial services and construction industries, were hit hardest by the Great Recession.

The result has been an interim period during which many underemployed Americans have little choice but to accept positions that entail significant pay cuts until better job opportunities return. But while some likely sign up for these jobs to make ends meet, working any of the positions on this list would barely accomplish even that.

MainStreet combed through 2010 salary data from the BLS on nearly 800 occupations to find the 10 that offer the lowest salary of any job in the U.S. If you work one of these jobs, there really is nowhere to go but up.

Photo Credit: danielmoyle

10th Worst Paid: Usher, Lobby Attendant and Ticket Taker


Next time you feel like snapping at an attendant in a movie theater or concert hall for trying to kick you out at the end of a show, just remind yourself that these employees often must work for relatively little pay, with a salary that’s less than half what the average U.S. worker earns. So try to be kind and accommodating.

Annual Wage: $20,290

Hourly Wage: $9.76

Photo Credit: David Masters

9th Worst Paid: Farmworker and Laborer, Crop, Nursery, Greenhouse


Despite the hard work and long hours that many farmworkers endure, they barely crack the $20,000 salary mark on average. To make matters worse, farmer ranked as the most endangered profession in another report, as the number of job openings in this occupation is expected to shrink by 8% by 2018. Those are probably two distinctions farmers would prefer not to have associated with their field of work.

Annual Wage: $20,040

Hourly Wage: $9.64

Photo Credit: gbaku

8th Worst Paid: Cashier


It may be a good way for teens and college students to make some extra cash, but the BLS data show just how hard it is to actually make a living by working as a full-time cashier in a retail store.

Annual Wage: $19,810

Hourly Wage: $9.52

Photo Credit: puuikibeach

7th Worst Paid: Amusement and Recreation Attendant


If you’ve ever wondered why the person operating the roller coaster looks so sad, here’s your answer. Sure, they get to be outside for much of the day, but the salary is dismally low. Employees in this occupation make less than $20,000 on average, and according to separate BLS data, even the highest paid attendants average just $25,000 annually.

Annual Wage: $19,750

Hourly Wage: $9.50

Photo Credit: bradleygee

6th Worst Paid: Host, Hostess


Like many in the restaurant industry, hosts and hostesses are generally paid very poorly, though they often get a cut of the tips given to waiters and waitresses for stellar service. Those may often go unreported, so perhaps their wages aren’t quite as dire as the government makes it out to be.

Annual Wage: $19,600

Hourly Wage: $9.43

Photo Credit: Urban Mixer

5th Worst Paid: Counter Attendant


Of all the industries the BLS analyzed, food services had the lowest wages. In total, eight of the 10 largest occupations in this industry, including counter attendants who take orders at concession stands and in cafeterias, paid salaries of less than $10 an hour.

Annual Wage: $19,280

Hourly Wage: $9.27

Photo Credit: basykes

4th Worst Paid: Shampooer


Consider this one more reason to tip well when you get your hair cut.

Annual Wage: $19,140

Hourly Wage: $9.20

Photo Credit: edenpictures

3rd Worst Paid: Dishwashers


As if having to clean up after others weren’t bad enough, dishwashers have an average salary of less than $9 an hour, barely above the national minimum wage of $7.25.

Annual Wage: $18,680

Hourly Wage: $8.98

Photo Credit: quinn.anya

2nd Worst Paid: Food Preparation and Service Workers


If you are going to work in food prep, the best place to do so, according to the BLS, is on trains or in government facilities, where these workers typically average salaries of more than $30,000 a year. Unfortunately, these industries collectively employ less than 1% of these workers, leaving the rest to do similar work for significantly less elsewhere.

Annual Wage: $18,610

Hourly Wage: $8.95

Photo Credit: star5112

The Worst Paid Job: Fast Food Cook


Fast food businesses have been a big source of jobs in recent months, with companies like McDonald’s adding tens of thousands of positions at a time when most companies are hesitant to add any. But as the BLS data show, some of these jobs, including working as a cook, offer severely limited salaries. It may be better than having no job at all, but just barely.

Annual Wage: $18,540

Hourly Wage: $8.91

Photo Credit: BrentDPayne

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