Forbes combed through data gathered annually by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a division of the Labor Department, to find the 13 most surprising low-paying jobs. The BLS culls its information from surveys it mails to businesses, and it releases its Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates Data each spring. The report shares information about hundreds of occupations, including hourly and annual wages, total numbers of workers in the profession, and the states and metro areas that pay the best.
To make the cut for our list, the average pay of employees in the profession had to be less than $50,000—when you’d think it would be more.
Marriage and family therapists are mental health professionals who typically diagnose and treat mental and emotional disorders within the context of marriage, couples and family systems. The job requires graduate training (a master’s or doctoral degree) in marriage and family therapy and usually at least two years of clinical experience, but on average they end up making just $48,710 a year. The bottom 10% of these professionals earn just $25,230 a year, on average.
Stay away from New York, Wisconsin and Alabama if you’re planning to pursue a career in the field. You’re likely to make less than $38,200 in those states. Instead, head to Hawaii, New Jersey or Rhode Island, where the average annual pay is over $56,000. (Pay is generally likely to be higher in states where the cost of living is higher.)
Other professions that you probably thought paid more than $50,000 a year: Radio and TV announcers, and reporters and correspondents. Announcers generally speak or read from scripted materials, such as news reports or commercial messages—but their voices and personalities earn them only $40,510 a year, on average. The mean pay is as little as $17,150 for the bottom 10% of them. You’ll make less than $27,740 working as a radio or television announcer in Wyoming, Oklahoma, North Dakota, Alabama and Kentucky—but you’ll earn $84,220, on average, in Washington, D.C.
Pay isn’t much better for reporters and correspondents. Those pros gather news by interview, investigation, or observation and share it with the public. Reporting and writing stories for newspapers, magazines, radio, television or other mediums will put $43,640 in your wallet each year, or just $20,000 for the bottom 10%.
Reporters in D.C. and Massachusetts earn an average annual income of $71,450 and $64,080, respectively—while those in places like Montana, Iowa and Idaho earn an average yearly pay of less than $29,500.
Embalmers, firefighters and private investigators also earn less than $50,000 a year, on average. You might expect to make more for a job that requires sanitizing and preserving the deceased—but apparently preparing bodies for interment will only earn you $45,060, and the bottom 10% make a measly $27,010.
You’ll make an inadequate $47,720, on average, risking your life to help save others’ by controlling and extinguishing fires in emergency situations. Ten percent of firefighters will only earn an average of $22,480 a year doing this important job.
Private investigators and detectives “gather, analyze, compile and report information regarding individuals or organizations to clients, or detect occurrences of unlawful acts or infractions of rules in private establishment,” according to the BLS site. They do it all for a skimpy $48,610 annual paycheck—or $25,940 for the bottom 10%.
1. Private Detectives and Investigators
Mean annual income: $48,610
Bottom 10% make $25,940
Total employed: 26,080
2. Surgical Technologists
Mean annual income: $42,460
Bottom 10% make $28,860
Total employed: 94,490
3. Flight Attendants
Mean annual income: $41,720
Bottom 10% make $24,990
Total employed: 87,190
4. Desktop Publishers
Mean annual income: $39,030
Bottom 10% make $21,320
Total employed: 18,620
5. Marriage and Family Therapists
Mean annual income: $48,710
Bottom 10% make $25,230
Total employed: 33,990
Mean annual income: $47,720
Bottom 10% make $22,480
Total employed: 304,080
7. Radio and Television Announcers
Mean annual income: $40,510
Bottom 10% make $17,150
Total employed: 31,680