Companies & Industries

Worst Jobs with the Best Pay


Slide Show >>Think you have a lousy job? You're not alone. So do about half of your fellow workers—and about a quarter of them are only showing up to collect a paycheck, according to a survey conducted by London-based market information company TNS. Grumbling over the size of that check is common, too. About two-thirds of workers believe they don't get paid enough, says TNS—even though many of them may actually be overpaid, compared to average compensation data.

A recent Salary.com survey found that 65% of workers plan to look for a new job within the next three months. The most common reason for leaving? Not enough pay.

But then there are some jobs that people would probably love to leave—except that they pay so well. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, as of Jan. 30, the average per-capita income in the U.S. was $27,640, which means that a lot of people in the nation earn considerably less. Therefore, to be able to earn more than that, sometimes considerably more, working an honest job is nothing to sneeze at even if the job itself is disagreeable, dirty, or just downright dangerous.

In most cases, though, workers said a 10% salary increase would be enough to make up for their jobs' shortcomings, whether those are poor working conditions, boredom, or a negative impact on health. And while there are any number of jobs that really are the pits, only a few of them actually pay well.

LURE OF THE PAYOFF. Case in point: crab fishing, one of the worst jobs around, no matter which way you slice it. The short fishing season for crab—and the high potential payoff—means the pace onboard a crabbing vessel is grueling.

Veteran crab fisherman Cade Smith, who now works on land selling Alaska seafood through his Web site, FishermansExpress.com, says he and his fellow deckhands routinely put in brutal 21-hour shifts launching and retrieving the 800-pound crab pots. Injuries are common, and with the weather conditions in the stormy, icy Bering Sea among the worst in the world, falling overboard is common, too. Statistically, fishing is the most dangerous job in the country, with a fatality rate some 30 times higher than average.

The primary allure? The money, of course. "Everyone wants to brag when they hit it big," says Smith, "And that was what you used to hear about around the bars of Dutch Harbor [a town in Alaska's Aleutian Islands]." There was always a top boat where the crew members raked in $50,000 during the three- to five-day king crab season—or $100,000 for the longer snow crab season.

EYE OF THE BEHOLDER. Of course, there were also boats that didn't catch much of anything—Smith's worst season left him with a net loss of $500, after expenses. "But the guys that didn't do well weren't so eager to talk about it," he says. And while a new quota system put in place has caused upheaval in the crabbing industry, and wages have fallen somewhat as a result, it's unlikely that the new system will fully put the get-rich-quick stories to rest anytime soon (see BusinessWeek.com, 9/4/06, "Fished Out").

Crab fishing isn't the only way to make a buck doing what most people won't. Although choosing "the worst" occupations depends on who you ask, jobs that qualify are typically high-risk, high-pressure, low-glamour, and physically (or psychologically) demanding. Or in the case of crab fishing, all of the above. Take a look at our list of 12 of the most unpleasant, most dangerous, and most demanding jobs around—with potential salaries big enough to make you think twice.

Maybe.

To see a slide show of the worst jobs with the best pay, click here.


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