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It pays to put people under.

That’s according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, which ranked anesthesiologists as America’s highest-paid workers in 2012, earning a mean annual salary of nearly $235,000, or an average of roughly $113.

In fact, contrary to popular belief, the nation’s top wage earners are more likely to be sporting scrubs and white coats in hospitals than wearing suits and cufflinks in board rooms: the10 highest-paid professions are in the medical field, including surgeon, general practitioner, orthodontist, obstetrician and psychiatrist, the BLS report found, based on data gathered from nearly 1.2 million businesses. Notorious for what is commonly considered excessive compensation, chief executives have a surprisingly low rank (relatively speaking, of course) of 11 on the top wage totem, with a mean annual wage of just under $177,000.

And then there’s the opposite extreme …

Food service industry workers, particularly those in fast-food jobs, are overwhelmingly represented among the ranks of America’s lowest wage-earners. Among the millions of Americans working these jobs, the average wage hovers around $9 an hour, amounting to less than $19,000 a year. All of these jobs offer less than half the earnings of the average U.S. wage, which the BLS puts at $45,790 (up slightly from the previous year).

With a mean hourly wage of under $9 an hour, or $18,600 a year, the occupation of shampooer was actually the lowest wage-earning profession on the list, making on average, less than 12 times the earnings of an anesthesiologist. Farm workers and laborers, while fairing slightly better than food service workers, were near the bottom as well, earning an average of less than $20,000 a year.

The extreme wage gaps between America’s highest and lowest paid workers gets even bigger when perks and benefits (or lack thereof) are considered. Health care, for instance, which isn’t offered in many low-wage jobs, can often represent about a third of a worker’s salary.

The 10 Highest and Lowest Paid Jobs in America 17 March,2014Matthew Green


Matthew Green

Matthew Green produces and edits The Lowdown, KQED’s multimedia news education blog, an online resource for educators and the general public. He previously taught journalism at Fremont High School in East Oakland, and has written for numerous local publications, including the Oakland Tribune and San Francisco Chronicle. Email:; Twitter: @MGreenKQED

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