Income isn't considered polite conversation for most Americans. We'll talk about our jobs, our families, the weather, the couple down the street who is obviously hiding something in that garage -- but not how much we earn.
In our culture, the more off-limits a topic is, the more it intrigues us. Unlike other taboo subjects, your neighbor's income isn't likely to keep you up at night with burning questions you must hear answered before you die.
Still, curiosity gets the best of us. Sometimes you hear somebody's occupation and wonder, "How in the world can you survive on that salary?" Or you hear another job title and daydream about running through fields of money.
To keep you from breaking into your neighbor's home to take a peek at his or her checkbook, we've put together a list of occupations and the salaries that just might surprise you because they don't earn as much as you'd expect. It's not that these salaries are low; it's that when you take into account what these people go through, you'd probably expect to see bigger numbers on their pay stubs.
1. FishersWhat they do: The seafood we eat has to get on our plates somehow, and chances are you're not skilled enough to catch a swordfish or lobster. Fishers work to catch fish and various sea life, which we not only eat but also use as bait.
What they earn: $28,280/year
Why it's surprising: Being a fisher is tough, dangerous work. Not only are you subject to the whims of the day's weather, but you're also battling the mood of the water and the unpredictability of the fish -- all while avoiding collision with other boats. I suspect most people would take a lot of convincing (not to mention financial reward) to face all these obstacles.
What they earn: $40,630/year
Why it's surprising: Getting an engineer out to your home to look at an AC problem seems to cost an outrageous fortune (and it always occurs when you're strapped for cash). You've probably assumed the person fixing your unit probably just tightened a bolt and overcharged you so he could pocket the money and take a trip to the Bahamas. The truth is, all that money isn't going straight into their pockets. The cost of parts, transportation and overhead are the reason you're paying so much per hour to get your plumbing back on track.
construction and maintenance industry.
What they earn: $35,230/year
Why it's surprising: Painting often falls into one of two categories: bothersome or dangerous. Homeowners hire painters because they don't want to go through the trouble of taping down plastic to cover the floor, applying coat after coat until the walls are covered or having to balance on a ladder to get that hard-to-reach spot. Businesses and agencies hire painters because not just anyone can -- or is willing to --paint a bridge or a building, which is way more involved than painting the four walls of your living room. For a task that many people loathe and that puts you in harm's way, more money sounds like a reasonable idea.
What they earn: $48,380/year
Why it's surprising: When you think about all the activity taking place during a trial, you probably think more about the excitement of a John Grisham novel than of the quiet observer meticulously writing down every word that's spoken aloud. Yet, court reporters play a vital role in several stages and types of legal proceedings. It's hard to imagine legal proceedings without the ability to refer to an accurate, detailed transcript. The salary isn't as high as you might expect for a job that requires extreme attention to detail in such important situations.
5. ForestersWhat they do: Foresters work with landowners, whether they're businesses or the public, in order to keep forested land healthy and productive. They decide when to plant trees and how to treat or prevent threats, such as tree diseases or fires.
What they earn: $54,030/year
Why it's surprising: Few of us probably even realize that being a forester is a real job. Yet, the amount of forested land in the United States is large, and managing the health and well-being of these areas is a huge task that requires a lot of research and coordination with property owners. When you consider just how important healthy, green land is to air quality and the environment, you'd probably expect foresters to have higher compensation.
*Salary figures based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Occupational Outlook Handbook.
Anthony Balderrama is a writer and blogger for CareerBuilder.com. He researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues.
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