Jobs That Pay Surprisingly Little

by Ron Haynes

I read an article published on Yahoo about ten “surprising” minimum wage jobs but I was surprised that the authors didn’t really understand WHY those jobs don’t pay very well. Here’s the list:

  1. Emergency Medical Technician (EMT)
  2. Pharmacy Technician
  3. Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)
  4. Preschool Teacher
  5. Amusement Park Ride Operator
  6. Line Cook
  7. Lifeguard
  8. Nanny
  9. Automobile Mechanic
  10. Tax Preparer

No one is saying that these positions aren’t important, but before you scurry around to finish your degree and get one of these jobs, let’s dissect them in light of the Four Reasons Your Job Doesn’t Pay Well.

The reasons a job pays poorly are:

  • There are a lot of people willing and able to perform it.
  • The job doesn’t require any specialized skills or education.
  • The job is unpleasant.
  • The demand for the job’s product or service is low or seasonal.

Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) – important job to be sure, but I don’t buy the claim that they make an average of $11.41/hour. Does the average include the volunteer EMT’s that work in many rural areas? If the supply was very short, but the demand was very high, these jobs would have to pay more.

Pharmacy Tech – another important job, but most of the pharmacy tech’s I’ve known were in pharmacy school and were working for the experience. Others were not in charge of dispensing the medications but were simply ringing up customers or counting pills under a pharmacists supervision.

Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) – again another important position. When you’re feeding, bathing, dressing, grooming, moving patients and changing soiled bed linens, there aren’t long lines of people waiting to perform those duties. These are not duties that require high levels of skill and they are under the constant supervision of a registered nurse.

Pre-school Teacher – nothing’s more important than our children, right? Of course! But the number of people willing to perform this job are relatively high compared to those who can fill a stadium with screaming fans.

Amusement Park Ride Operator – seriously? You’re surprised that a part-time, seasonal position held by college students who press buttons and check the safety bar on your roller coaster is a low paying job?

Line cook – ditto. Who can be surprised at this one?

Lifeguard – again with the seasonal positions. Newsflash! Most seasonal jobs are not well paying ones.

Nanny – another one that I don’t buy. The bottom 10% earns $7.51/hr with the median range earning $10.31/hour? According to the description, my teenage daughters are nannies, so are the people offering childcare during my church’s morning Bible studies.

Auto Mechanic – yeah right. I’ll concede that new mechanics with very little experience probably don’t earn much, but then neither does anyone with very little experience. Once a mechanic learns to properly diagnose and repair a vehicle for a fair price, he or she is GOLDEN with more business than they can handle.

Tax Preparer – another seasonal position. Please don’t try to convince me that a tax accountant earns only $9.15/hour like the Yahoo article says. A “preparer” generally gets a minimal amount of education and is set loose on the public with a glorified TurboTax software package. A tax accountant has years of education, certifications, and has passed a rigorous exam as well as continuing education.

Copywriters make more than novelists. Basketball stars make more than basketball referees. Chefs make more than hamburger flippers.

Why is anyone surprised?

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About the author

Ron Haynes has written 1001 articles on The Wisdom Journal.

The founder and editor of The Wisdom Journal in 2007, Ron has worked in banking, distribution, retail, and upper management for companies ranging in size from small startups to multi-billion dollar corporations. He graduated Suma Cum Laude from a top MBA program and currently is a Human Resources and Management consultant, helping companies know how employees will behave in varying situations and what motivates them to action, assisting firms in identifying top talent, and coaching managers and employees on how to better communicate and make the workplace MUCH more enjoyable. If you'd like help in these areas, contact Ron using the contact form at the top of this page or at 870-761-7881.

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Chefs Jobs

I can understand your reasoning behind your article, but it does not take into account the commitment and dedication needed to stay in one of these positions.

Supply and demand, granted and you say that supply is higher then demand.

But do you want your child looked after by a demoralised teacher, do you want your food handled by someone who does not care and do you want your medication dispensed by someone who just does not care ?

I think we should look at this a bit more closely.



Why would the teacher be demoralized? It certainly can’t be because of the money, he or she knew the pay scale going into the profession. Personally, I’ve never met anyone who “just doesn’t care” solely because of the money factor. Again, people know what they’ll be paid before they accept the job. Would YOU take a demoralizing job? Would you stay in it?

Supply and demand runs our lives. It would be far better to understand it than to try to circumvent it.


I was a tax preparer and accountant. Part of it is that despite the hours it takes to prepare a tax return and the knowledge that you need to do it correctly (and legally), people don’t appreciate it, and want it done cheaply. Big francishers like HR Block don’t help because they employ barely trained staff to do it cheaply.

In Australia our Lifeguard service (like many of our emergency services) is run on a voluntary basis – so most of our life savers work for free. Not that they don’t deserve to be paid, its just they way it works here – our bushfire brigade is made up of over 150,000 volunteers, our state emergency service is made up of volunteers (if a wind blows your roof off at 3am, it’s a volunteer up on your roof in the dark and wet repairing it), St John’s Ambulance – volunteer, I teach as a volunteer. In a capitalist model, this does’t actually fit, but it works. Just throwing a different perspective out there.


And a great perspective at that! We have some similar positions here in the States, volunteer work (many of our rural fire departments and emergency services are all volunteer).

On tax preparation, do you think that the software packages (some very good) that are sold by Turbo Tax and H&R Block (TaxCut) have contributed to people wanting the service performed very cheaply?


Re tax software: possibly. But you need to know how to use the software, ie how to apply the taxation laws – it’s not just a matter of plugging in numbers.

I think that people just hate tax, all aspects of it including paying for it to be paid! If it were biblical times, I would be a tax collector – one of the most hated people!

Re teachers: that was my first career! We have a lack of teachers, and I agree that they get paid pretty poorly. There once was a time when teachers were among the most respected of our community. Now they have to increasingly fill the role of parents, and cop a lot of abuse, for very little pay, particularly in comparison with others who have had the same level of education.

Not that I’m anti capitalist (not interested in the alternative!) but it’s sad how we insist on equating ‘value’ with money at the ‘expense’ of all other perspectives.


But most people’s tax situation is pretty simple and it truly IS just a matter of plugging in the numbers. I have run several businesses and used their software for almost two decades and never had a problem. In some cases (again, here in the States), there are legitimate reasons to use a tax preparer but most people are finding that the software does the job quite well.

Many teachers here in the States are paid in the $40,000 to $50,000 (USD) annually and since there are literally tens of thousands of education majors graduating from college, it has the tendency of driving down the annual salary … again, probably not what people want to hear, but it is what it is.

Bill B

Re: Auto Mechanic

I’ve worked in the automotive service field for over thirty years and done a wide range of repairs on cars, trucks, buses, construction equipment and even generator sets. I’ve been in dealerships, fleets and independant shops. I’ve been New York State licensed vehicle inspector and I am currently certified as a Master Technician by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE).

Many highly knowledgable Automotive Mechanic-Technicians are NOT highly paid despite excellent diagnostic ability. In fact, under the flat-rate commission systems that many shops use, diagnostic work can actually REDUCE a Mechanic-Technician’s pay! The article seems to confuse the term “Auto Mechanic” with auto repair shop owners. They are NOT the same! Today in New York City year 2010, there are positions for “Master Automotive Technician” paying a paltry $14 an hour! Compensation for most “Auto Mechanic” jobs runs from a low of about $7 an hour minimum wage (for newbies) to a high of about $25 an hour for experienced Master Mechanic-Technicians. Many experienced people are leaving the field due to low pay issues. I am one of them.


Have you considered opening your own shop?

Bill B

Thank you for your thoughtful reply! To answer your question, yes! I have indeed considered opening my own shop! I would do it in a heartbeat if I had the resources necessary. It’s very expensive to set up a functional automotive repair shop. That’s why most auto repair businesses are owned by non-mechanics who possess a substantial amount of required capital! Every auto shop owner KNOWS his mechanics would leave in an instant to open their own shops… if they could.

If we look at the financial picture, auto repair establishments typically charge shop labor rates approaching $100 an hour if not more. Yet most mechanic salaries are intentionally held to very low levels (i.e. $7-$25 an hour). And many highly qualified mechanics are gradually being replaced by lower cost illegal immigrant labor. After all, why pay $25 an hour for an ASE Certified Master Technician when you can hire THREE hardworking illegals for the same money? These dynamics are designed to keep most mechanics too poor to open their own auto repair businesses.

Some mechanics try to conduct business on the street, in parking lots or in home garages if they have them. But this severely limits them. This situation has caused many highly qualified mechanics to leave the field! As I said before, I am one of them. Auto Mechanic has become a low-pay job for suckers! I hope that answers your question!

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