Pilots and Professors Barely Scraping By? 9 Surprising Jobs That Pay a Pittance

In the first two years of “recovery” from the Great Recession, the top one percent of households captured 121 percent of the economy's gains, according to economist Emanuel Saez, leaving the rest of us poorer than we were when the reversal began. Wall Street pay has more than bounced back, with average pay higher today than it was before the crash.

The top 25 hedge fund managers continue to take in close to a billion dollars per year each, on average. As Les Leopold noted, it would take a middle-class family 47 years to bring in what they make in just one hour. What value do they add to our society? Well, when they're not wrecking the global economy, they're pricing people out of the housing market and ripping off small investors.

As for the rest of us, the reality is that a disproportionate share of the jobs being created in America since the crash are low-income McJobs. According to a study by the National Law Employment Project, low-income jobs represented 21 percent of the total lost in the crash, but 58 percent of those added during the recovery (PDF). In contrast, 60 percent of the jobs lost in the downturn paid a middle-class wage, but they've only made up 22 percent of those added during the recovery.

One of the problems one finds talking about the proliferation of crappy, low-wage jobs is that many people have a mental image of teenagers flipping burgers at a fast-food joint. But those minimum-wage service jobs aren't the only ones that pay a pittance. You might be surprised at some of the professions where people make around $25,000 per year. Many require relatively scarce skills; others provide real value for our society.

1. Regional Airline Pilots

Senior pilots working for major international carriers earn a pretty good living. But flying for regional carriers – which employ about 13 percent of all pilots – means not only having to worry about weather and navigation, but also how you'll pay your bills at the end of the month.

According to the Houston Chronicle, starting salaries for pilots at regional airlines start at as low as $16,500. The average starting salary is about $20,000, and with years of experience, these pilots can pull their way up to a maximum wage of around $60,000.

Not only are passengers' lives in their hands, but piloting a commercial jet requires hours of training, extensive licensing, and in most cases, a four-year college degree.

2. Adjunct Professors

This profession is similarly tiered; tenured professors at private universities make a handsome salary of around $135,000 per year, on average. But an increasing number of courses are being taught by part-time adjunct professors – they now teach 75 percent of all classes, according to Inside Higher Education – and many of them are barely scraping by. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, adjunct report being paid an average of $2,987 per 3-credit course. But at some community colleges, that figure is as low as $1,100; the average pay at rural two-year colleges is $1,808, or around $22,000 per year. As part-timers, they rarely receive benefits like health insurance.

3. Home Health/Psychiatric Aides

It's long been the case that occupations that have traditionally been seen as “women's work” tend not to pay well, and home health and psychiatric aides are no exception. But consider how difficult this job is – if you've ever cared for someone who is too elderly or handicapped to care for themselves, you know it's no picnic. This is also a profession that requires some trust – you don't want to leave grandpa with just anyone.

And yet, this fast-growing field pays an average of just $10.49 per hour, or $21,830 per year, according to BLS.

4. Ambulance Drivers and Attendants

They're first responders, with lives in their hands, and they make just $11.97 per hour, on average, according to BLS. One would think you wouldn't want the ambulance rushing you to the hospital to be driven by someone who has to work a second job to make ends meet, but that's often the case.

5. Veterinary Animal Caretakers

Sure, Fido is part of your family. His vet is pretty well paid, but the person who takes care of him when he disappears into the back of the vet's office? She's getting an average of $24,740 per year.

6. Childcare Workers

According to the shopworn cliché, our children are the future. And when we drop them off for childcare, we expect them to be well cared for, safe and un-molested. It's a lot to ask for an average of $10.25 an hour or $21,310 per year.

7. Cosmetologists for Dead People

This one pays a middle-class wage, although less than the median at $16.31 per hour, according to the Houston Chronicle. But it takes special skills, and one would think you'd need to pay folks a decent wage to deal with corpses all day. (The McJobs of the industry are funeral attendants, who make $24,250 per year, on average.)

8. Gambling Dealers

It seems like an exciting, high-paying job. And dealers at good casinos make good money in tips (or “tokes,” in gaming parlance) if they're at the right casino. But the best jobs are scarce, and those who don't see a lot in tips aren't getting rich. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, dealers make an average of $22,410 per year in salary.

9. Models

Top fashion models like Naomi Campbell rake in millions. But most models aren't international superstars. According to BLS, the average wage for a model is just $12.55 per hour, or $26,110 per year.

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