Image: Physical therapist works with patient.
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By 2020, the number of physical therapist positions is expected to rise by 39 percent.
updated 9/13/2012 7:09:04 AM ET 2012-09-13T11:09:04

The U.S. unemployment rate peaked at 10 percent in October 2009, and has since slowly improved, flirting with 8 percent in August. Despite the downward trend, the rate is still more than double pre-recession levels. As the economy continues to recover and more people return to the work force, many are trying to find the right career — one that is hiring and will pay well.

Knowing which jobs will be in high demand and pay the most is a good place to start. To serve as a guide, 24/7 Wall St. identified the best-paying jobs of the future. These jobs will grow the most in the next decade, some as much as 60 percent by 2020. They also have median salaries that are close to double the national average of $34,450, and in some cases more.

Many of these occupations will be in highest demand because of changes in the nation’s population and in the way the country’s businesses operate. Last year, the first baby boomers turned 65. As this generation gets older, increasing medical needs will require more health care professionals. Of the 10 high-paying, high-growth occupations we reviewed, six are in the medical field.

Because most of these positions are in the medical field, many require at least a master’s degree, and in many cases, a doctoral degree. However, four have more reasonable educational requirements, including the three that are growing the most. A career as a sonographer, projected to grow 43.5 percent with a median salary of $64,380, typically just requires an associate’s degree.

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24/7 Wall St. identified the best-paying jobs that will also have the highest demand for new workers in the future based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ National Employment Matrix. The matrix, which forecasts job growth between 2010 and 2020 for the bureau’s more-than 1,000 listed jobs, was used to identify the professions that are going to grow the most as a percent of 2010 employment figures by 2020. We then selected the fastest growing jobs that also had a median annual income of at least $60,000 in 2010, 75 percent higher than the $34,450 national median average. Using the bureau's Occupational Employment Statistics, 24/7 Wall St. also identified the states with the highest concentration of jobs for May 2011.

These are the best-paying jobs of the future.

1. Biomedical engineers

  • Percent increase: 61.7 percent
  • Total new jobs (2010–2020): 9,700
  • Median income: $81,540
  • States with the most jobs per capita: Massachusetts, Utah, Minnesota

Biomedical engineers’ work typically involves designing or maintaining biomedical equipment, such as artificial organs and X-ray machines. These jobs often require a great deal of technical knowledge in fields such as biology, engineering, math, and chemistry. Because of this, a bachelor’s degree is typically needed. The professional requirements come with impressive compensation. The median income for such jobs was $81,540, and the top 10 percent earned more than $126,990. Between 2010 and 2020, the number of biomedical engineers is projected to rise by 61.7 percent, more than four times the projected growth rate for all jobs, which is 14 percent. Explaining this, the Burea of Labor Statistics cites the baby boomer generation’s growing demand for biomedical devices and procedures as it “seeks to maintain its healthy and active lifestyle.”

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2. Diagnostic medical sonographers

  • Percent increase:  43.5 percent
  • Total new jobs (2010–2020): 23,400
  • Median income: $64,380
  • States with the most jobs per capita: Rhode Island, Florida, South Dakota

Diagnostic medical sonographers work in hospitals and other facilities, conducting ultrasounds on patients and analyzing the resulting images. The BLS projects an increase of 43.5 percent in the number of positions between 2010 and 2020, which would raise the total number of such jobs to 77,100. Explaining the driving factors behind the growth, the bureau states that “as ultrasound technology evolves, it will be used as a substitute for procedures that are costly, invasive or expose patients to radiation.” Sonographers typically need an associate’s degree, and many employers prefer candidates to have professional certification. The top 10 percent of sonographersmade more than $88,490 annually.

3. Market research analysts and marketing specialists

  • Percent increase: 41.2 percent
  • Total new jobs (2010–2020): 116,600
  • Median income: $60,570
  • States with the most jobs per capita: Delaware, Massachusetts, New York

Market research analysts work in most industries, monitoring and forecasting marketing and sales trends, as well as collecting and analyzing data on their companies’ products or services. To become a market research analyst, a bachelor’s degree is typically required, though many analysts have a master’s degree. Citing increases in the use of market research across all industries, the bureau projects the number of positions in the field will rise to almost 400,000 by 2020. Top-earning market research analysts made over $111,440 annually.

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4. Physical therapists

  • Percent increase:  39.0 percent
  • Total new jobs (2010–2020): 77,400
  • Median income: $76,310
  • States with the most jobs per capita: Rhode Island, Vermont, Maine

Physical therapists assist patients by helping to address and correct dysfunctional movement and pain. They are required to have a postgraduate professional degree, typically a doctor of physical therapy, and a license. Those completing these prerequisites join one of the fastest-growing professions in the country — by 2020, the number of positions is expected to rise by 39 percent. The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that “demand for physical therapy services will come, in large part, from the aging baby boomers, who are staying active later in life than previous generations did.” The top 10 percent of physical therapists earned more than $107,920.

5. Dental hygienists

  • Percent increase: 37.7 percent
  • Total new jobs (2010–2020): 68,500
  • Median income: $68,250
  • States with the most jobs per capita: Michigan, Utah, Idaho

From 2010 to 2020, the number of dental hygienists is projected to rise by 37.7 percent to more than 250,000. Factors driving increased demand for this occupation include ongoing research linking oral health to general health, as well as an aging population keeping more of its teeth. Dental hygienists typically don’t need a professional degree or previous work experience, though they often need an associate’s degree and a license. Typical job responsibilities include cleaning teeth and taking dental X-rays.

Read the rest of the list at the 24/7 Wall St. website

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