The Five Lowest-Paying Jobs in America

The lowest paying jobs in America are also some of the most in demand jobs in the country, and they account for some of the highest U.S. employment levels. The combination of these factors is both promising and troubling.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the average American worker earns a mean annual wage of $45,790. However, the lowest paying jobs in the country pay less than half of this amount. What’s more, there are multiplied-millions of low-paying jobs flooding the economy. For example, there were almost three million food preparation and serving workers in 2012, and over three million more of these jobs are projected to be added by 2022. There are also over three million cashiers in the country - although growth in this area will be tempered by the rise of self-service checkout stands.

Two of the jobs that barely missed the list of the lowest paying jobs are also two of the fastest-growing jobs in the country. Demand for personal care aides and home health aides is projected to increase by 49 percent and 48 percent respectively, which is more than triple the 14 percent growth rate projected for the average U.S. occupation.

Other high-demand, low paying jobs that barely missed making the list include physical therapists, taxi drivers and chauffeurs, childcare workers, and nursing assistants and orderlies.

According to a 2013 article in the New York Times, approximately 1.7 million Americans earned a minimum wage salary or less in 2007. By 2012, that number jumped to 3.6 million, and several million other Americans earned wages that were only a few dollars more per hour.

This leads to the dilemma regarding job growth in the United States: According to a 2012 study released by the National Employment Law Project (NELP), the majority of jobs lost during the recession were mid-wage occupations, while the largest number of post-recession jobs are low-wage occupations.

However, the study’s author, Annette Bernhardt, who is also the Policy Co-Director at NELP, says the country’s labor market was in trouble before the recession. Bernhardt points to several factors over the past 30 years that have contributed to the decrease in good jobs, including failed public policies, deunionization, the rise of subcontracting work, and a decline in the value of the minimum wage - which is now worth less than it was in the 1970s.

Unless or until these problems are fixed, the majority of new jobs will continue to be low-paying offers, such as the following:

5 Life Guards, Ski Patrol, and Recreational Protective Service Workers - $20,720

This class of workers includes lifeguards, swim instructors, pool attendants, marine safety officers, and water safety instructors. Duties vary, and may include monitoring slopes, trails, and swimming areas from assigned posts, on foot, or in vehicles. Lifeguards, ski patrol and recreational protective service workers also use proper techniques to rescue people in danger, and administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation and other forms of first aid.

They also teach swimming, skiing, and other forms of recreational activities, provide instruction in safety techniques, issue inclement weather warnings, report suspicious behavior, and examine recreational equipment for excessive wear or damage. Most lifeguards, ski patrol and recreational protective service workers have a high school diploma, although some have also taken college courses. These workers need good observation and decision-making skills, physical stamina, and should be able use rescue equipment. In addition, employers usually provide on-the-job training.

4 Cashiers - $20,370

The various types of cashiers include clerks, sales associates, customer assistants, admissions gate attendants, customer service representatives, checkers, and toll collectors. They process a range of payments, including cash, checks, credit cards, or vouchers.

Cashiers also issue change, refunds, credits, and receipts of payment, and they handle merchandise returns. Other duties include greeting customers, answering questions, checking prices, and explaining store policies, addition to stocking shelves, and ensuring items are correctly marked. A high school diploma is required for some cashier positions; in addition, these employees need good math skills and the ability to stand for long periods of time. As new employees, they usually undergo training to learn the company’s specific cash registers and store policies.

3 Ushers, Lobby Attendants and Ticket Takers - $20,320; Amusement and Recreation Attendants - $20,020

Ushers, lobby attendants, and ticket takers greet patrons; sell, gather, and authenticate admission tickets; and direct people to seating areas, concession stands, and restrooms. They also help to maintain order and solve disputes regarding seating issues.

Amusement and recreation attendants include sports complex attendants, ride operators, ski lift operators, and community center coordinators. In addition to selling tickets, they also sell refreshments, operate amusement rides, and ensure that safety rules are observed. Most jobs require a high school diploma or less, although on-the-job training is usually provided. In addition, these workers need good customer service skills and physical stamina.

2 Agricultural Workers - $19,990

Agricultural workers include crop, nursery, and greenhouse farm workers and laborers. They plant, irrigate, prune, and harvest crops; apply pesticides, and also pack and load crop shipments. This group also includes farm and ranch animal workers who feed, herd, and maintain clean housing quarters for sheep, pigs, cattle, goats, horses, and other types of animals. Another class of agricultural workers includes agricultural equipment operators, who use tractors, threshers, balers, and fertilizer spreaders, in addition to operating loading machines, conveyor belts and other equipment.

Animal breeders are the final group of agricultural workers in this pay group. Some animal breeders select and breed farm animals for higher product yield. This can include chickens that produce more eggs, or pigs that have leaner meat. Other animal breeders focus on household pets, such as dogs and cats. Aside from breeders, most agricultural workers don’t need a high school diploma, and receive on-the-job-training. Agricultural workers need physical stamina and strength, in addition to mechanical and manual dexterity skills.

1 Food and Beverage Serving and Related Workers - $18,720 - $20,710

Workers in this group include cooks, dishwashers, waiters and waitresses, hosts and hostesses, and dining room and cafeteria attendants. The category also includes carhops who take food to parked cars, and workers who deliver food to hotel or hospital rooms.

Duties include greeting customers, managing reservations, assigning guests to tables, cleaning and setting tables, filling water glasses, and washing dirty dishes. Other duties include preparing food and accepting payments. Most jobs in this industry do not require formal education. Usually, workers go through a short on-the-job training course that covers safety procedures for preparing and handling food, as well as customer service skills.

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