Estimated Hourly Wages For The Lowest Paying Jobs In The U.S.

The blog Political Calculations took data from the Congressional Budget Office, “which published a study of the lowest-wage workers in the U.S. from 1979 through 2005,” and looked at the occupations of the bottom 20% of earners in the U.S. Then it took a chart of the 10 full-time jobs with the lowest annual earnings as compiled by and estimated the hourly wage based on 40-hour weeks. Conclusion: don’t plan on operating a Tilt-a-Whirl and retiring comfortably.

Three of the jobs—waiting tables, bartending, and, uh, bellhopping?—don’t include unreported tips. After the food and beverage jobs, the next lowest spot on the chart is “Amusement and Recreation Facility Attendants.” Interesting—this could explain why that Zipper ride operator at the fair yelled at us when we were kids and tried to scoop up spare change that fell out of riders’ pockets. That was his money.

Average Hourly Wages as estimated by Political Calculations
* does not include unreported tip income
Waiters and waitresses*
Waiters and waitresses’ assistants
Amusement and Recreation Facility Attendants
Baggage Porters and Bellhops*
Food Preparation Workers Not Classified Elsewhere
Early Childhood Teacher’s Assistants
Maids and Housemen
Teacher’s Aides
Food Preparation Kitchen Workers

“The Jobs That Pay the Least” [Political Calculations]

“America’s 25 Best and Worst Paying Jobs”
(Photo: Mister Scratch)


Edit Your Comment

  1. DeltaPurser says:

    Flight attendants didn’t make the list?! Surprising!!! I’m making less now than I did 10 years ago!

  2. nursetim says:

    The world needs ditch diggers too

  3. nursetim says:

    The world needs ditch diggers too.

  4. MercuryPDX says:

    That was his money.

    Puke covered as it may be…

  5. SaveMeJeebus says:

    What about part time retail slaves?

  6. Gorky says:

    Im surprised Grocery Store Bagger isnt on the list

  7. MercuryPDX says:

    @SaveMeJeebus: Check the chart: []

  8. goodkitty says:

    I think it’s fascinating that most of those jobs revolve around what you would consider the second most holy of professions (that would be looking after children) — food prep and serving.

    We’ll pay $100 an hour to a doctor (or more) to look at our throat when it hurts, but give the guy sneezing and bleeding in our salad only $5 an hour. Makes sense.

  9. Bay State Darren says:

    I’m only 23 and, no joke, I have already held two of the jobs on this list: Early Childhood Teacher’s Assistants and food prep [wasn’t my primary duty but was a part of my tasks].

    Although I definitely consider the fun of being an Early Childhood Teacher’s Assistant to outweigh the low pay [esp. since I was volunteering.]

  10. barfoo says:

    @Gorky: Supermarket employees are unionized in many places and can make a decent living.

    The averages may be misleading as well: many retail slaves make low wages, but some don’t, and this categorization may not distinguish them (“retail salesperson” could include car salespeople as well as clerks at the Gap). In that case, the average would be a well-nigh meaningless number.

  11. Syrus28 says:

    I work part-time as a retail slave…err bagger. Or as Safeway calls them, “Courtesy Clerks”. I started at $7.15 when a year ago when I was 14. Not bad pay for my age… Im suprised how low they pay these people!

  12. homeskillet81 says:

    …and this is why i’m going to college, Hooray

  13. Pec says:

    No retail employees? Convenience store clerk? The guy who bags your groceries? The guy who prices and stocks your local Walmart’s merchandise? The young woman at your local Target that helps you find school supplies for your children? The man at Staples who found you the perfect printer for your home office?

    Teachers aids, and early childhood teacher’s assistants are jobs that function as internships and are essentially mandatory for those entering the education field.

    Bartenders and waitresses can make a very livable wage depending on how well they perform their jobs, what country/state/city they live in, and of course the actual business itself. (high end restaurant versus Denny’s)

    I can imagine a large amount of the non management/supervisor positions with the title “Amusement and Recreation Facility Attendants” are summer jobs performed by college students while not in classes.

    I completely agree with food preparation but the absence of retail and sales peoples is insulting.

  14. Syrus28 says:

    Actually, I’ve been working at Safeway in Arizona for a year since I was 14 and I started at $7.15 an hour. I think it largely depends where you live. Arizona’s minimum wage is higher than alot of those, its $6.90

    Heck, the IN-N-OUT burger down the street HIRES at $9.50. Age 16 and above.

  15. ChuckECheese says:

    The whole concept of this study is sorta baffling. I mean, a great many jobs are minimum wage or nearly so, aren’t they? It’s strange to say that some minimum-wage jobs are more minimum than others.

  16. hapless says:

    @nursetim: Ditch diggers are notably absent from this list.

  17. yesteryear says:

    rad! finally something i know about. i know they used BLS data, but this list seems a little strange. i am in local economic development and we use this data to track the occupations we want to invest in and try to attract to our region to provide high paying, lasting jobs for local residents.

    if youre curious about your locality’s average wages you can find all of the data here:

    it’s organized by state and then by MSA or metro district. have fun, data nerds.

  18. WraithSama says:


    Back when I was in high school, I worked for Kroger as a bagger (or ‘utility clerk’, they liked to call us). We were unionized (joining the union was mandatory for employment, in fact), as you said, but we made *terrible* pay and almost no benefits. The union was corrupt and cow-towed to the corporation. Our pay was awful and the union contract locked it, making raises impossible, even for merit. I was told by a woman who had worked there longer than anyone else that the last time the workes voted to strike, the union said no and wouldn’t let them. I hated that job.

    Fortunately, I have a good-paying union job with great benefits where the union isn’t corrupt, and all the top men in the union (who are voted on each year by the workers) work side-by-side with us in the company.

    That Kroger job almost ruined me on unions, though. I’m sure those corrupt jerks were pocketing our union dues and laughing their way to the bank.

  19. yesteryear says:

    oh, btw, the most recent data is may 2006 – but this is normal, the government is notoriously slow in putting out this data.

  20. SpenceMan01 says:

    Food Preparation Kitchen Worker – Check
    Teacher’s Aide – Check
    Amusement and Recreation Facility Attendant – Double Check (one on both counts).

    I also worked retail. I worked up the food chain while in high school and college and am now sitting comfortably in a cube for 40 hours a week.

  21. Bay State Darren says:

    @ChuckECheese: Yeah, I’m guessing that some jobs didn’t make the list because the averages were skewed by having a few employees that make a lote more. This is possibly why retail didn’t cut it: if commission, high-end retail, etc. resulted in a minority of workers in that field making a significant sum more and affecting the average.

  22. yesteryear says:

    for everyone wondering about retail – BayStateDarren: is absolutely right. this is based on the mean, which for the nation is over $11.51/hr for retail sales persons. while those folks running the ferris wheel show a mean wage of only $8.43. the median wage for retail is only $9.50/hr (the ride operators’ median is only $7.83!!)… but most look to the mean – which is why it’s not included on this list.

  23. NickVenture says:

    I am a retail slave and I can say I should definitely be on that list. Most definitely.

  24. badgeman46 says:

    No offense, but that list is CRAP! I know waitresses and bartenders that clear well above fourty grand a year. By the way WTF IS A WAITRESS ASSISTANT????? DOES THE WAITRESS NEED A SECRETARY???? Do people actually sink this low and say, “I’m gonna be some single mom’s bitch!”

  25. 46and2 says:

    bussers^^^^^^^^ i made shit as a busser…the waiters jack you

  26. badgeman46 says:

    @nursetim: Iromically, I would make an educated guess that ditchdiggers probably make 15-20 bucks an hour, maybe more They probably work for the state DPW, and are probably Unionized. I recently saw an ad for a tolltaker in boston, and that position made 62,000 a year!!! It’s all relative.

  27. Robobot says:

    Yep, retail has a select few who make insane amounts of money for their job descriptions. Plus, retail is a pretty broad topic. Toss a few higher-end people working for commission, like car salesmen, and the mean salary shoots up.

    There are also different standards for different geographic areas. I live in Northern Virginia and anyone making much under $100k annually is in the poor house. I am not exaggerating. People here tend to make more money in every profession. (Not that us retail employees make enough to live on even with the inflated wages, but that’s for another blog.)

  28. @badgeman46: I recently saw an ad for a tolltaker in boston, and that position made 62,000 a year!!!
    Tolltaker is seriously considered one of the most lucrative jobs in the Commonwealth. You need to save a Kennedy’s life or be otherwise exceptionally connected to land the position. Don’t ask me to explain why this is.

  29. ChuckECheese says:

    @yesteryear: You know, I wondered if these were BLS numbers. That data is teh sux. A couple years ago, they started reporting that social workers average about $40K/year. On what planet? I think they pulled that one out by separating clinical social workers (shrinks) from all the rest, which they lumped into the newly created category of “social service assistants (‘we take your babies’).” You should just do what El Paso has done and open a bunch of bilingual call centers–that way you get business from both sides of the border.

  30. @badgeman46: a “waitress assistant” is more likely what is generally known as a “server assistant” or “S.A.”. You know, the people who aren’t your server who bring you water and clear plates throughout many restaurants?

  31. Falconfire says:

    @homeskillet81: Hate to break it to you, but in some states, you have to have at LEAST a associates degree to hold two of those jobs (IE Early Childhood and Teachers Aides)

    The difference between a aide and a teacher is as little as a piece of paper saying they passed a test in some states. Many teachers begin their careers as aides. Heck one of my IT staff members began their career as a aide before a position in my department opened up.

  32. caj11 says:


    That would be the busboy/busser.

  33. lakecountrydave says:

    Nursetim – I am a glorified ditch digger (utilities/underground construction), and thanks to my union I make a living wage with benefits.

  34. caj11 says:

    Has anyone bothered to point out yet that bartenders, waiters & waitresses can sometimes clear six figures if they work at the right place ? Yes, I know that’s the rule but I really don’t think those jobs belong on the list. Most people in those positions, if they aren’t making decent tip income, quit and move onto something else.

  35. chartrule says:

    for Canadian wages this site should help



  36. deadlizard says:

    Most jobs on the list rely on tips for the lions-share of income. The real winner should be “Illegal Immigrant”. Those guys don’t make any more than a waiter.

  37. yesteryear says:

    @ChuckECheese: interesting about el paso. that tactic wouldn’t work too well here. i’m in the bay area, which is one of the highest wage areas in the country (highest housing costs too, before anyone gets too envious) so we try to attract higher wage jobs than those found in call centers. a major concern is also retaining jobs that pay well but don’t require multiple degrees – you know, what we used to know as blue collar jobs before they all started disappearing.

    in terms of the phantoms running the tollbooths, those are great jobs if you can get one! government is usually the largest sector in a metro area because it not only includes all of the city, county, state and federal employees, it includes the public schools as well… but as someone mentioned, it’s often hard to get in.

  38. JeffM says:

    Not too mention it is California, a state that prides itself on having way too much government. :)

    I know that a local community college down here in Cupertino pays early childhood teacher’s aides $10.00/hr as a starting wage, but they couldn’t be full-time. As many have suggested it is rather difficult to get a full-time job as a aide since generally in most programs aides are expected to be continuing their education.

    The “full-time” teachers earned up to $110K/year due union oddities and longevity. Most made $50-$80K, that said community colleges generally have very generous pay for early childhood education. Some programs in San Jose proper pay less than $30K/yr for a 12 month contract (<$15/hr) while requiring a bachelors degree.

  39. comopuedeser says:

    Let’s all be thankful we live in a country that has plenty of work available compared to many other countries. Frankly, I’m more concerned with all the people out there who don’t work and still want to collect aid from the government without a legit excuse (ie. disability). However, even disability is a nebulous term that gets abused much too often.

    Try setting up a google alert for your favorite job and sit back and watch opportunities for new positions to come to your inbox daily. If your job pays too little, get out and do something about it by tapping into the abundance of employers out there seeking employees.

  40. ampersand says:

    So… what they really found was that no one reports their tips to the government?

  41. Lordstrom says:

    It’s absolutely disgusting the way people portray wait staff as slaves by not including the massive amount of money they make in tips. It’s just to guilt us into giving some arbitrarily high percentage for every meal, merit be damned.

  42. Marram90 says:

    Yeah, where in god’s name are the retail workers on this list? Food prep at McDonald’s and Burger King and Wendy’s and all those other fast food joints make more than the average retail worker! Let’s think for a second:

    My first job I worked at McDonald’s and would get a raise two months after working there, followed by another raise 6 months later. They started me well above minimum wage, and if it weren’t for the racist idiots who I worked for I wouldn’t have quit.

    My current job is at Dollar Tree which, of course, is a retail business. They offered to pay me more than McDonald’s, but at the same time I get smaller raises and they are more spaced out in time. Ie I just got my first raise after working there a year and a month or two. Now the sad part is, when Federal Minimum Wage increased, I didn’t get a raise. So now idiots who work for me (I say me because it feels that way when I worked with some people) end up making more than me. I can’t complain either because the store is in a poor neighborhood so upon quitting they’d get another employee instantly.

    And they say retail isn’t one of the lowest paying jobs?

  43. Digitamer81 says:

    We “waiters and waitresses” in TN only make 2.13 as an hourly wage before tip income, and when we get people who stiff us or leave us shitty tips like Young Buck does, it makes our income even lower. Lorddave, not many waitstaff make a “massive amount of money” from their tips. Many of us make just enough to survive. The ones that do make the massive money are in high end restaurants, not in the normal everyday ones that the common folk regularly dine at.

  44. MsFemmeFatale says:

    I have never had a bartending job that paid that much hourly excluding tips.

    You CAN make good money bartending but the chances of finding a place that will pay more than 3-4 bucks hourly and is constantly busy is slim to none.

    Thank god I quit and finally work for a lawyer.

  45. Nissan288 says:

    don’t investment bankers make next to nothing based on their ridiculous hours?

  46. Falconfire says:

    @lorddave: You dont actually thing they all make “massive amounts” do you? The few odd waiters aside most make barely 20k a year if that WITH tips.

  47. doctor_cos wants you to remain calm says:

    @nursetim: and don’t forget “The world needs plenty of bartenders”

  48. bohemian says:

    There are frequently retail and food service jobs advertised at $6.50 an hour here in SD. The same wage I was paid at my summer job in 1984.

  49. rpm773 says:

    1. Waiters and waitresses* – $4.21
    2. Waiters and waitresses’ assistants – $5.94

    I guess in this career, it doesn’t pay to move up.

  50. barty says:

    @Falconfire: I don’t have any illusions that they do, but it still doesn’t excuse the entitlement mentality that some servers have when it comes to tips. I still feel that a tip is earned, not automatically given. If I feel I’ve gotten piss poor service, then there will be a piss poor tip.

    Fortunately, my overall experience with most servers is positive and I’ve only had to withhold a tip maybe two or three times in the past 15 years or so.

  51. mgy says:

    Wow, I thought I was making good money at my pay rate. Looks like I have one of the lowest paying jobs in the US.

  52. backbroken says:

    I have yet to come across anyone who describes their occupation as ‘houseman.’ WTF is that?

  53. The Porkchop Express says:

    @Pec: MOST employees at the amusement parks are college/highschool kids working part time.

    Then once you get to a certain level of management the money can be a lot better than the list states. also most people that stay at the job make more than that average, not much more but still. plus the benefits can be fairly decent.

    Actually most of these jobs are jobs that are often held by college/high school people and are part time.

  54. opfreak says:

    Not every job out there is meant to support a family, or provide for retirement. That kind of thinking is dangerous. someone bagging what i buy at walmart, should not make nearly as much as me with a engineering degree. after going to college for years,

  55. chemmy says:

    Minimum wage for waitstaff in Ohio is $2.13 per hour. I was a waitress (for a week)and it was explained to me that my reported tips were expected to be enough to bring me up to minimum wage.

    The employer is expected to record tip totals and if it doesn’t equal out to minimum wage by the end of the week, the employer has to cover the balance.

  56. chemmy says:

    Just read Ohio is increasing minimum wage for tipped employees to a whopping $3.50

    At 40 hours a week & 52 weeks a year

    That’s an annual income of $7280 before taxes (and tips of course)

  57. chemmy says:

    @chemmy: They’re raising it to $3.50/hr in 2008

    That’s a whole $7280 per year (before tips & taxes)

  58. chemmy says:

    Darn, sorry for the double post.

  59. Falconfire says:

    @barty: And your perfectly entitled to that opinion as I feel the same. But I am actually making a effort to force the government to make the food service industry actually pay a WORKING wage that would enable a server to make at least minimum wage so the tips actually count as a tip, and not the other half of their pay. Are you?

  60. brent_w says:

    Every waiter/waitress or Bartender I know makes about twice as much as I do.

    Then they turn around and pretend they are soo poor because of the mean people that don’t give them 20%+ tips …

  61. The Porkchop Express says:

    @chemmy: Aftert that week you did the smart thing and got a job that actually paid right? That is one of the problems with wait staffers that complain about the wage….go to walmart, target, a grocery store. Nobody has to be a waiter, unless your family owns the place.

  62. Kevin Cotter says:

    Don’t wait-staff and bartenders make tips? I did when I worked those jobs.

  63. yesteryear says:

    @JeffM: i think those $110k jobs you speak of might be early childhood teachers who are also early childhood professors. in college i worked in childcare and i think the most i ever made working in a regular preschool was $7.00/hr and i know my supervisor was not making anywhere near $100k. interestingly, only a year later i was making close to $15/hr at a recreation program for a local city – and an early childhood certificate was not required for that position.

    there’s no question, the early childhood assistants in the private sector are some of the lowest paid people out there. and if you’ve ever worked in that field you know that it’s not all college students… i was actually surprised at how many burnout weirdo moms i worked with at various preschools. yikes.

  64. Joafu says:

    @Kevin Cotter: * does not include unreported tip income

    Which is stupid because I know some people who bring home an easy hundred dollars in tips, they can claim whatever they want. I worked at JCPenney’s in 06, and I made $5.75 an hour working utility (stock shelves, unbox pallets, clean vomit, do visuals, pretty much everything except check-out.) My buddy worked at a Mom-and-Pop restaurant and made $4.50 an hour, but when you figure in an easy $80, but closer to $120 for tips, that’s like $14 – $19. Of course, they can claim whatever nil number they want for taxes.

  65. stanfrombrooklyn says:

    In 1982, the University of Virginia released its student job statistics and reported that the average Speech Communications major was making $62,000 per year. This was when one was happy to make $20,000 per year. They neglected to mention that one of the Speech Communications majors was Ralph Sampson, the NBA basketball player who presumably skewed the average up a little bit.

  66. Falconfire says:

    @Joafu: Not true anymore. Restaurants have started recording tip and submitting them to the government, so the day of hiding them from the Fed has passed.

    And you basically proved my point, that if you paid servers a real wage, the tips become a tip and not their pay. $4.50 is twice as much as my fiancee made from a Brinker owned restaurant 3 years ago. Most only make the bare minimum of a little over 2 bucks. the difference between 2.50 and 4.50 is twice their salary.

  67. TangDrinker says:

    Might also be interesting in seeing how many low paying jobs require more than a high school diploma (such as many early education and health care positions).

    Public librarians (who must have a master’s degree) start out at around $35K now. When I started my career in 1999 in an academic library I only made 27K.

  68. MissTic says:

    So more confirmation that our mothers were right. Get an education and a good job. Let these kinds of positions be stepping stones, not a career.

  69. badgeman46 says:

    @Jerkwheat: Ah, ok. In the old days we called them bus-boys.

  70. ivanthemute says:

    @TangDrinker: Quick question, why is it that to become a librarian it takes a Master’s? Is there something special to it? Most public libraries I’ve seen could be run by a Wal-Mart trained stocker.

  71. JosephFinn says:

    Perfect example as to why “tip wages” laws should be repealed.

    @ivanthemute: Because runnning a library properly requires a Masters in Library Science, a highly specialized degree that involves library operations, community relations, information science and other disciplines. It’s not just tossing books on the shelves.

  72. enm4r says:

    I don’t get the waiters’ argument. If at the end of the day, including tips, they don’t make the mandated minimum wage is the employer not legally obligated to step in and make up the difference?

    My understanding was they they do. So it seems incorrect to say anyone actually makes less than the minimum wage, because at the end of the day they have to go home with at least that much.

  73. JeffM says:

    @yesteryear: They were not professors, however they were in the same union as professors and similiar pay-grade which is why they were paid such an exorbitant salary.

  74. Where’s “adjunct professor”? WAAAAAY less than minimum wage. (Although I guess since you’re paid by the class, not the hour, real hourly wage depends on how much prep and grading you do.)

  75. rhombopteryx says:

    Chance of getting hit by a car = rather high.
    Chance of pocketing tolls if they don’t pay you enough = rather high.

  76. Her Grace says:

    I’m in the last stage of my MA (the, um, finishing my dissertation so I can graduate stage), and looking for jobs. My field is large and exceptionally self-contained. Trying to find an entry level job is next to impossible. Unfortunately, when I was thinking about this two years ago, I was looking at the average yearly wage (high $60s to low $80s). I know better, now. I’ll be lucky to get $30,000 (in the DC metro area, to boot!) when I start.

  77. opfreak says:

    Yes waiters have to ‘report’ their tips. Most if not all make enough to hit the min wage requirement.

    But heres the kicker, thats all they tend to report.

    if they worked a 7 hour shift, they would report ~30 dollars in tips to hit the min wage, the rest would go straight to the pocket.

    In bussier places you could walk out with 100-200 dollars a night TAX Free.

    And its even worse then that, since their ‘offical’ income is so low they would get all their taxes refunded at the end of the year, making their effect tax rate 0%.

    Its annoying when if you work in a ‘real’ job, 20-30% of your check goes to uncle sam, but these poor wait staff people complain about how broke they are.

  78. lyndyn says:

    @ivanthemute: You don’t see 95% of what it takes to run a library – and that’s how it’s supposed to be; the patron’s experience is supposed to be pretty transparent. What you do see is, in many places, done by circulation clerks and pages who make, you guessed it, around minimum wage or a little over.

    I’m a paraprofessional (un-degreed library worker doing the job of someone with a master’s degree) and my duties are very complex and sophisticated. You would be surprised, I promise.

  79. jeff303 says:

    Nearly every time I eat out I pay my bill (including tip) with credit. I assume this means it’s reported. I wonder if any waiters/waitresses can chime in with what percentage of their actual tips are electronic vs. cash to give us a better idea?

  80. vetter02 says:

    Well here is NC, restaurants can now “pay” their servers and bartenders $2.25/hour. I work part-time as a bartender and listen to the servers complain about assholes who think they make minimum wage and leave them 2 dollars on a 50 dollar check. The paychecks we do receive are lucky enough to be around 35 dollars every two weeks. If a server has a bad night, they are no where near making minimum wage. I hate the people who think we make all this money and don’t claim any of it. It’s not an easy job and luckily I only work part-time because I challenge any of you to work in a fast paced resturant for one night.

  81. y0shidono says:

    Amusement and Recreation Facility Attendants, $6.97?

    I wonder if this includes BIG amuesment parks. I was making close to this in 1993 at our local Theme park.

  82. NigerianScammer says:


    Ain’t that the truth. My friends mom has been working at an early childhood daycare center for years and she’s only making 9.50 an hour. Oh yeah, and she’s wierd as fuh.

  83. sonyaMc says:

    I’ve worked as a waitress and bartender near Atlanta for about 11 years. I don’t know about the rest of the country but the most I’ve ever made hourly is $2.13. After Federal taxes are taken out of our paychecks there isn’t enough left over for Georgia and we are screwed at tax time! That’s why we are pissy when we are left crappy tips!