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Jobs where people work the most for the least

Truck drivers still work nearly 200 hours annually more than the average American.
Truck drivers still work nearly 200 hours annually more than the average American.Ted S. Warren / AP file

By Michael B. Sauter and Charles B. Stockdale, 24/7 Wall St.

The average person in the U.S. works just over 2,000 hours per year, or 39.5 per week, and is paid $37,128 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Some occupations, however, require long days and night shifts, amounting to hundreds of extra hours, yet they pay the same or even less than most occupations. 24/7 Wall St. has identified the jobs with the longest hours and the worst pay.

Of the nearly 800 job categories listed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 48 occupations require at least 2,100 hours annually — roughly 100 more than the national average. Most of these positions also are paid very well, averaging more than $80,000 per year.

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Only seven positions require at least 2,100 hours or more each year, yet pay the same or less than the national average. These jobs compensate poorly because they generally require only a high school education. Parts salesmen, who work 2,101 hours each year, can get a position directly out of high school. Similarly, tractor-trailer drivers, who work nearly 200 hours more each year than the national average, do not require a college degree. Some jobs, such as paramedics and EMTs, require a strenuous certification process, but still can be achieved without a college degree.

These jobs have longer hours because they tend to require prolonged shifts and because the industry does not observe regular working hours. Set designers work overtime to get theater productions ready for the public. They remain on call while the show is running as well. Truck drivers are paid by miles driven instead of hours worked. While the number of hours drivers work is heavily regulated, the pay-per-distance compensation increases the number of hours the average driver is willing to be on the road.

24/7 Wall St. relied on Bureau of Labor Statistics’ National Compensation Data to identify the average hours worked annually by every major position in the U.S. To determine the jobs that worked the longest hours for the least pay, we took positions that require at least 2,100 hours each year and excluded those with a pay of $40,000 or more annually.

These are the jobs that require the most work for the lowest pay.

7. Set and exhibit designers

  • Median hours worked/year: 2,136
  • Median annual salary: $39,998
  • Employment: 8,120

Set and exhibit designers “design special exhibits and movie, television, and theater sets,” according to the BLS. Productions rely heavily on set designers’ work, meaning working hours can be extremely long, particularly right before shooting or the first night of a performance. Of course, projects vary in size, with some requiring designers to put in even more time than others. Set and exhibit designers generally work 130 hours more per year than an average person.

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6. Truck drivers, heavy and tractor-trailer

  • Average hours worked/year: 2,193
  • Median annual salary: $38,958
  • Employment: 1,466,740

Because their level of alertness can affect the safety of everyone else on the road, tractor-trailer drivers have among the most carefully monitored hours among any major occupation in the U.S. Despite this, truck drivers still work nearly 200 hours more than the average. Regulations demand that a long-distance trucker not work for more than 14 hours a day, and no more than 11 of those driving. The U.S. DOT has proposed a regulation that would require drivers to install a device that monitors how many hours they are on the road. According to the BLS, “Many drivers, particularly on long runs, work close to the maximum time permitted because they are usually compensated according to the number of miles they drive. Drivers often travel nights, holidays, and weekends.” However, they are only paid about $1,800 more than the national median salary.

5. Farm equipment mechanics

  • Median hours worked/year: 2,165
  • Median annual salary: $38,139
  • Employment: 30,300

Farm equipment mechanics service, maintain and repair farming equipment. Due to the nature of the job, farm mechanics’ hours vary according to season. In the slow winter months, mechanics may work 40 hours or less a week. During the much busier planting and harvesting seasons, they often work six or seven days a week, 10 to 12 hours daily, which causes the average annual hours for the occupation to be high.

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4. Motor vehicle electronic equipment installers and repairers

  • Median hours worked/year: 2,102
  • Median annual salary: $37,440
  • Employment: 15,630

Auto electronic equipment installers repair, replace and insert lights, radios, speakers and other electronic car components. These individuals usually work an average of 100 hours a year more than the national average, yet barely earn more than the median annual salary. According to one occupation profile provided by the state of Tennessee, “Don’t expect to work just nine to five. Generally speaking, you have to stay until the job is done. At times, you might have to work evenings.” A former car audio installer explains in the Tennessee report, “If you’re stuck on something, sometimes they demand more of you, (so) you might have to stay later.”

3. First-line supervisors/managers of retail sales workers

  • Median hours worked/year: 2,128
  • Median annual salary: $36,972
  • Employment: 1,172,070

First-line supervisors or managers of retail sales workers directly supervise the work of retail salespeople. They must work longer hours than regular salespeople, as they supervise multiple shifts throughout the workday. Most stores also remain open on the weekend, as well as on many holidays. At the same time, they still work in the retail industry, which is usually low-paying.

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2. Parts salespersons

  • Median hours worked/year: 2,101
  • Median annual salary: $32,760
  • Employment: 201,610

Parts salespeople usually work in parts stores or replacement shops. Most of these jobs are in the auto parts industry. These sales jobs usually involve long hours and, according to the Employment Development Department for the State of California, also frequently involve night shifts and weekend shifts. Median income for this position is just $32,760 per year.

1. Emergency medical technicians and paramedics

  • Median hours worked/year: 2,188
  • Median annual salary: $30,969
  • Employment: 221,760

Besides being a mentally and physically demanding job, emergency medical technicians and paramedics work an average of 180 hours each year more than the average person. Because many EMT services run 24 hours a day, employees often need to be on call all night. According to EMT Training Spot, EMTs may find themselves working upwards of 10 hours a day, and 45 hours a week. Despite these conditions, EMTs and paramedics earn a median annual salary of just $30,969 — more than $7,000 less than the national median salary.