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Highest-Paying Jobs in the US



Do what you love and the money will follow is great in theory, but the truth of the matter is, certain jobs and fields simply pay more. The Bureau of Labor Statistics National Compensation Survey showed, for example, that white-collar earnings, which averaged $21.85 per hour, were the highest among occupational groups. Blue-collar pay averaged $15.03 per hour, while the hourly pay of service occupations averaged just $10.40.

The jobs that pay the most require at least a four-year college degree. According to the most recent data from the Employment Policy Foundation, the nation’s 12 top-paying jobs -- and the mean annual income reported in 2003 for each -- were:

Top Paying Jobs Overall

  • Physicians and surgeons -- $147,000
  • Aircraft pilots -- $133,500
  • Chief executives -- $116,000
  • Electrical and electronic engineers -- $112,000
  • Lawyers and judges -- $99,800
  • Dentists -- $90,000
  • Pharmacists -- $85,500
  • Management analysts -- $84,700
  • Computer and information system managers -- $83,000
  • Financial analysts, managers and advisors -- $84,000
  • Marketing and sales managers -- $80,000
  • Education administrators -- $80,000


  • Though many of these occupations require an advanced degree, there are jobs at every education level that pay more than other jobs for workers with similar levels of schooling. Here, courtesy of the Employment Policy Foundation, is a look at the best-paying occupations at varying education levels:

    Top Paying Jobs That Do Not Require a High School Degree
    These jobs tend to require substantial on-the-job training and work experience rather than formal education and schooling:

  • Industrial production managers -- $36,000
  • Bailiffs, correctional officers and jailers -- $36,400
  • Drafters -- $36,000
  • Construction manager -- $33,600
  • Electricians -- $31,900


  • Top Paying Jobs for High School Graduates
    These occupations emphasize work experience and on-the-job training rather than formal education:

  • Computer software engineers -- $58,900
  • Computer/information systems managers -- $56,400
  • Computer programmers -- $55,000
  • Network systems and data communications analysts -- $49,000
  • General and operations managers -- $48,000
  • Database, network and computer systems administrators -- $48,000


  • Top Paying Jobs for a Two-Year College Degree
    The following jobs tend to be technical in nature, emphasizing skills developed on the job as well as job-specific training and certifications:

  • Healthcare practitioners -- $66,000
  • Business analysts -- $58,000
  • Electrical and electronic engineers -- $57,000
  • Mechanical engineers -- $56,800
  • General and operations managers -- $54,000
  • Computer and information systems managers -- $50,400


  • "A look at expected earnings over a lifetime shows the economic benefit of higher education attainment," says Tony Carnevale, who chaired President Clinton’s National Commission for Employment Policy and authored several books, including "America and the New Economy: How New Competitive Standards are Radically Changing American Workplaces."

    A person with a doctoral or professional degree, for example, is expected to earn about $3 million over the course of his or her working life while a person without a high school diploma is expected to earn less than $1 million. "Despite an increasing supply of well-educated workers, the college wage premium has nearly doubled since 1980, largely because of the added value of a college education in the new knowledge economy," adds Carnevale.

    The Employment Policy Forum concurs, but stresses that these numbers are only averages. Individual earnings depend on many factors inducing geographic location, employer size (average hourly earnings ranged from $15.06 in organizations employing between 1 and 99 workers to $24.09 in those with 2,500 workers or more), industry (workers in goods-producing industries earned $18.46 an hour vs. those in service-producing industries who earned $16.44 an hour) and the worker’s skills and characteristics.

    Kate Lorenz is the article and advice editor for CareerBuilder.com. She researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues. Other writers contributed to this article.