What are the five lowest paying jobs?

When considering a career path, most people want to find a job that provides a comfortable salary that allows them to live well and save money. However, some careers offer very low wages despite requiring extensive training and skills. Understanding the lowest paying jobs can help job seekers make informed decisions when choosing a field of work.

What does it mean for a job to be low paying?

Low paying jobs typically fall well below the national median salary and do not provide wages sufficient to support the cost of living in most areas. The federal minimum wage in the United States is currently $7.25 per hour. Full-time workers earning minimum wage and working 40 hours per week would have an annual salary of only $15,080. Jobs with average wages below $15 per hour result in annual salaries under $30,000, which is considered quite low.

How is average salary determined for occupations?

Several government departments including the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) gather data and produce statistics on wages and salaries for different occupations. Average salaries are determined through surveys of employers and households. The average provides a good overview, but actual income varies based on factors like geographic location, specific employer, and years of experience.

Why do some jobs pay so little?

There are a few key reasons certain occupations offer extremely low pay compared to the national median salary despite requiring formal education or training.

  • High competition – Some low paying jobs like personal care aides have minimal barriers to entry and high demand, leading to abundant labor supply and low wages.
  • Part-time work – Jobs like restaurant servers often employ part-time workers who only work during peak hours. Fewer hours result in less total pay.
  • Minimal qualifications – Occupations like dishwashers have virtually no qualification requirements so wages remain low even with experience.
  • Tip-based – Jobs where tips provide a major portion of income, such as bartenders, result in low hourly pay rates.
  • Government funding – Public sectors jobs like librarians rely on government budgets and have limits on earning potential.

What metrics determine the lowest paying jobs?

When analyzing salaries to determine the lowest paying occupations, two key statistics are most relevant:

  • Average hourly wage – For jobs paid at an hourly rate, the average wage across all workers indicates earning potential.
  • Mean annual salary – For salaried positions, the mean salary provides the most accurate overview of average pay.

Additional factors like required qualifications, working conditions, and long-term career potential also contribute to designating the worst paying jobs. However, average wages provide the clearest comparison between careers.

What are the 5 lowest paying occupations?

Here are the 5 jobs with the lowest average salaries according to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

1. Dishwashers

Average Hourly Wage: $9.37 per hour

Average Annual Salary: $19,450

Washing dishes involves repetitive physical labor and offers virtually no opportunity for career advancement. Most dishwashing jobs require no formal education or previous experience, so wages remain extremely low. Dishwashers earn roughly half the median annual salary across all occupations.

2. Cooks, Fast Food

Average Hourly Wage: $10.22 per hour

Average Annual Salary: $21,260

Fast food cooks prepare meals rapidly over hot grills and deep fryers. The fast-paced environment and inconsistent hours make the job quite demanding. Training on the job is provided, but skills do not translate to significantly higher pay. Most fast food cooks earn under $11 per hour according to wage statistics.

3. Hosts and Hostesses, Restaurant, Lounge, or Coffee Shop

Average Hourly Wage: $10.65 per hour

Average Annual Salary: $22,150

Hosts greet customers and manage seating arrangements and customer flow in restaurants. This customer service position does not require formal education and provides on-site training. The role offers limited opportunities for advancement or pay increases, keeping average wages just above $10 per hour.

4. Dining Room and Cafeteria Attendants and Bartender Helpers

Average Hourly Wage: $11.00 per hour

Average Annual Salary: $22,890

These entry-level food service positions assist waiters and bartenders by setting tables, serving food, restocking utensils, and cleaning common areas. Training occurs through short-term on-the-job experience. The physically demanding nature and lack of advancement potential result in low pay rates compared to other occupations.

5. Cooks, Short Order

Average Hourly Wage: $12.35 per hour

Average Annual Salary: $25,690

Short order cooks prepare basic menu items like sandwiches, salads, soups, and pancakes in lower-volume kitchens like cafes and coffee shops. Most learn through informal mentorship at work instead of formal culinary education. The average wage for short order cooks remains below $13 per hour according to data.

Lowest Paying Jobs by The Numbers

Here is a summary of the key wage data points for the 5 lowest paying jobs:

Occupation Average Hourly Wage Average Annual Salary
Dishwashers $9.37 $19,450
Fast Food Cooks $10.22 $21,260
Restaurant Hosts and Hostesses $10.65 $22,150
Dining Room Attendants $11.00 $22,890
Short Order Cooks $12.35 $25,690

Key Takeaways

While the lowest paying jobs offer wages below $30,000 per year, it is possible to earn promotions over time or develop skills for higher paying roles. However, these occupations present challenges for making ends meet at entry-level. Job seekers should understand the earning potential and long-term outlook of any position before committing to a career.


Dishwashers, fast food cooks, restaurant hosts, dining room attendants, and short order cooks represent the lowest paying occupations according to average salary data. These jobs offer hourly wages between $9 and $12 per hour on average. Annual salaries range from approximately $19,000 to $25,000, which is well below the national median. While these roles require hard work, they present limited opportunities for advancement and wage growth over time. Workers should carefully consider both the initial salary and long-term outlook when evaluating low paying careers.

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