All through my childhood, I thought classroom teachers must make a million dollars a year.
After all, look at how much they work both inside and out of the classroom. And consider the work they do — shaping young minds. These are people who are depended on the world over to raise future generations of educated, employable adults. Some argue it is the most important job one can have in our society. But then I grew up and found out what the overwhelming majority of us have come to know — teachers don’t make a million dollars a year. Not even close.
That’s why a job like teaching doesn’t make this list, because everyone knows they’re underpaid. Instead, we’re focusing on jobs many people think are super lucrative, but are actually well below those expectations. The jobs can still pay well, it’s just they don’t pay nearly as much as people think. So we combed through our archive of more than 4,000 job titles to uncover surprisingly low-paying jobs. Sorry if we burst a few bubbles.
JOB TITLE: Psychologist
MEDIAN SALARY: $87,820/year
Look, a job that pays almost $90,000 is nothing to sneeze at. But many people assume trained professionals who analyze and treat serious mental and behavioral disorders make a lot more than this.
Part of that might be because they’re confusing psychologists and psychiatrists. The latter are fully trained doctors who have undergraduate degrees, have graduated from medical school, gone through four years of residency, and possibly other specialized training. Psychologists, on the other hand, generally require a doctorate degree, but sometimes a Master’s degree will suffice. But they still might need an additional year or two of internships to obtain licensure. Also, pyschologists generally aren’t allowed to prescribe medication while psychiatrists can.
But regardless, psychologists study cognitive, emotional, and social processes and human behavior by observing, interpreting, and recording how people relate to one another and their environments. It’s an important and difficult job, and one many incorrectly assume pays well into the six figures.
8. Executive Chef
JOB TITLE: Executive Chef
MEDIAN SALARY: $67,082
I blame the food network and the glut of cooking shows for this one.
When most people think of executive chefs they probably picture a 5-star restaurant with unpronounceable (and ridiculously expensive) menu items, overseen by a bellicose man in a white chef’s hat barking orders with a thick French accent. And judging by this country’s obsession with food and being Top Chef or Iron Chef, it’s easy to see why people assume head chefs are rolling in dough. After all, these employees direct and oversee the entire kitchen staff, they plan the menu, and (sometimes quite literally) put out fires in real time and work in a state of constant stress.
But, as this list will bear out, popularity and perception do not always translate into reality, as the national median salary for executive chefs fails to top $70,000.
JOB TITLE: Chemist
MEDIAN SALARY: $61,232
I was an English major and I make my living as a writer/editor. Which means I don’t know much about chemistry, nevermind what chemists actually do. But in my head, they are geniuses in white lab coats who add a little of this with a little of that, and POOF — something amazing is discovered. And that sounds profitable.
In reality, chemists analyze organic and inorganic compounds to determine chemical and physical properties, composition, structure, relationships, and reactions. They develop, improve, and customize products, while testing and analyzing said products to make sure they adhere to standards. Like many people, I’m not really sure what all that means but I know it sounds impressive and important. But despite that, the national annual median salary for mid-career chemists barely cracks $60,000. That’s still a lot of money in a lot of places, but this is for a job that requires a bachelor’s degree, in some cases a master’s degree, and 4-5 years of experience.
JOB TITLE: Accountant
MEDIAN SALARY: $56,988
Accountants are automatically associated with money, which might be why many people think they’re flush with cash.
And who can blame them? If you’re the financial backbone of a company or organization, it stands to reason you’d be among one of the highest paid members of said company or organization. Because while you might think of accountants only during tax time, they’re working behind the scenes on a year-round basis. Many accountants are CPAs (Certified Public Accountants), which requires a year or so of additional time and energy. And that’s on top of an associate’s, bachelor’s, or even a master’s degree.
But contrary to popular belief, while accountants are busy examining financial records, they’re not setting any salary records themselves.
5. Graphic Designer
JOB TITLE: Graphic Designer
MEDIAN SALARY: $50,952
Graphic designers are the cool, hip workers that manage to combine art and technology in the most awe-inspiring of ways.
Whether it’s a sleek new company logo or a new advertising brochure that’s helping to drive sales, graphic designers are the go-to creative minds that come up with something impossibly artistic to move the brand or campaign forward. And because most of the things created by graphic designers are public-facing, many members of the public often think the people who create these captivating visual concepts must receive equally captivating salaries. But at $50,000 a year, it’s lower than many people think.
And to boot, about one-quarter of graphic designers are self-employed independent contractors
JOB TITLE: Architect
MEDIAN SALARY: $48,138
I think people tend to overvalue the careers about which they have no clue. For instance, I’m a writer so I tend to think anyone can do it. But jobs that involve different skillsets that are completely opposite our own — like architecture — are the ones we assume rake in the highest salaries.
Architecture. It’s literally designing new buildings, houses, and other structures. For people who can barely manage a teepee made of sticks, being able to visualize and then design the intricacies of a habitable building seems like it would pay a small fortune. But amazingly (at least to me), the national median annual salary doesn’t even crack the $50,000 mark.
3. Police Officer & Firefighter
JOB TITLE: Police officer, Firefighter
MEDIAN SALARY: $52,316 (police), $43,167 (fire)
It stands to reason if your job involves risking your life each and every time you clock in for work, you would be paid a hefty sum. But unfortunately for public safety officials, that’s just not reality.
Police officers deal with every kind of situation imaginable, and then they deal with the ones no one could ever imagine. They are armed, trained, and at any point during their shift they could be shot at, harmed, or even killed. Firefighters are only called in extreme emergencies, and are paid to run into burning buildings while everyone else is running out. They also respond to things like hazardous material spills and car accidents, which can also be deadly.
But despite the high levels of training needed for both jobs and the heightened risk to life and limb, the base salaries for these two careers are lower than the majority of the public could ever imagine.
JOB TITLE: Paramedic
MEDIAN SALARY: $39,853
Similar to police officers and firefighters, it seems the more peril you put yourself in the lower your paycheck is.
Paramedics don’t always require even a bachelor’s degree, but they must be licensed. Mainly because they are often the first responders in an emergency situation. Whether someone is choking, stops breathing, is having a heart attack, etc., paramedics have the difficult and ultra stressful job of arriving with lightning speed, diagnosing the problem amidst chaos, and giving life-saving treatment until the patient can be transported to a hospital and looked at by doctors.
Those doctors earn the big bucks, and rightly so, but it’s likely a large segment of the population would be surprised at just how little these life-saving paramedics make at less than $40,000 a year.
JOB TITLE: Reporter
MEDIAN SALARY: $37,858
I know for sure people overestimate how much media members make, because I used to be one.
The conversation would always play out similarly in that people were generally impressed to learn you’re a reporter with a byline in a major publication on a daily basis. And because of that kind of exposure and maintaining a high profile, they’d assume a high profile paycheck came with it. Nope. Not at all. Not even a little.
It’s popular to dump on reporters and the media these days because the media gets blamed for everything. Some of it is valid, most of it isn’t. But reporters — especially at the local level — serve an undeniably important role. They are the conduit between elected leaders conducting city business, and the people. Without oversight and communicating what’s happening to the public, people would be largely blind to what’s taking place in their own community. It takes hours of sitting through meetings, conducting interviews, getting accurate quotes, verifying information, and then turning it in on deadline. And the deadline never goes away, making newsrooms a pretty stressful place.
Journalism might look glamorous in movies, however the paycheck is anything but.
Whatever Your Job Pays, Negotiating Will Help
While you might be surprised at some of the jobs on this list, if you’re going for a job interview you should NEVER be surprised at what a job pays. That’s something you should always know beforehand. And Salary.com can help you get paid fairly what you do.
The first thing you should do is research, so you’re able to come to the table armed with the knowledge of what your job is worth. Use our free Salary Wizard below to find out what’s a fair salary for your position. You can enter your location, education level, years of experience and more to find out an appropriate salary range before you negotiate.