The Most Underpaid Jobs in the United States

Seven professions where the salary doesn’t always match responsibilities or demand.


Call it employee malaise, or some component of "The American Dream," but many workers in the United States feel they're not earning the salary they deserve. For some of them, that notion is personal and emotional, but not always logical.

Sometimes, though, the idea that a job is deserving of higher pay is practical and valid. School teachers are a commonly touted example of a group of underpaid workers whose responsibilities and societal impact don't compare with their average salary. Still, it's hard to quantify societal impact to come up with a list of jobs where workers are undercompensated. Instead, we selected a list of underpaid jobs based on societal need.

Our Best Jobs of 2012 list showcases occupations expected to hire abundantly up to the year 2020; jobs that were then ranked based on current employment rates, average salaries, and job satisfaction, as determined by the job review website From that list, we've selected a group of "underpaid" jobs where the hiring demand is high (each of the professions listed here is expected to have at least 45,000 brand new openings between now and 2020), but the salaries are low. All the jobs on our list have an average median salary of less than $41,673.83, the national average wage index as calculated by the Social Security Administration.

[See the 10 Best Jobs of 2012.]

The jobs highlighted here also have one additional thing in common: They receive medium-high to very-high job satisfaction scores from those currently working in the profession. In essence, we're giving you a mix of occupations across a variety of industries where people like the work they're doing and where more workers are needed. There's only one thing missing: a comfortable salary that can make the work even more worthwhile.

Here's our list of the underpaid jobs in the United States:

Security Guard

Average Salary: $23,900

No. of Openings: 195,000

Job Satisfaction: HIGH

Those who work in security frequently praise the occupation's flexible hours (lots of night and 12-hour shifts result in more days off) and recommend it for people who don't mind working alone. Still, it's a job that can be particularly stressful to the psyche as well as the body. Security guards must remain alert to protect against and prevent fire hazards, larceny, vandalism, and other emergency situations and illegal activity. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that security guards experience more on-the-job injury than the national average for all professions; gaming surveillance officers specifically have one of the highest injury rates. Too bad the pay is so paltry for those making security their full-time gig. In 2011, the average median salary for a security guard was just $23,900.

Sports Coach

Average Salary: $28,470

No. of Openings: 71,400

Job Satisfaction: HIGH

A sports coach trains either amateur or professional athletes for competition. But he or she also serves as an adviser, parent, teacher, and confidante for his or her team. The most-renowned in the profession—the Béla Károlyis, the John Maddens, and the Pat Rileys—have earned impressive salaries that came with adulation as well as endorsement deals. But most of the 242,900 professionals working in the field currently aren't coaching on that level, nor are they earning that type of pay. And the adulation they most mention to Glassdoor comes from the impressionable young people they coach on the secondary and collegiate level.

[See 8 Reasons You're Not Earning the Salary You Want.]

Medical Assistant

Average Salary: $29,100

No. of Openings: 162,900

Job Satisfaction: MEDIUM

The approximately 530,000 medical assistants employed in doctors' offices and larger medical organizations must do a mix of traditional office operations work and hands-on medical tasks. They take patient histories, assist in patient examinations, change wound dressings, and help with sterilizing equipment. Often, they're the first and last people a patient sees when visiting a doctor's office, so medical assistants play a substantial part in the overall patient-care experience. In recent years, a medical assistant's people skills and practical skills have been complemented by technological skills, since most patient records are now digitized. The multifaceted nature of responsibilities hasn't resulted in substantially higher pay, however. In 2011, the BLS reported a median salary for medical assistants that's $12,573 less than the national average.