The Most Underpaid Jobs in the United States

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


Medical assistants who reviewed their professions and workplaces with Glassdoor don't mention lower salaries. Instead, they highlight the joy of giving quality medical care. According to a medical assistant at Planned Parenthood in San Diego, one of the perks of the profession is that it "Allows you to serve a population in need."

Recreation and Fitness Worker

Average Salary: $31,030

No. of Openings: 124,700

Job Satisfaction: HIGH

"There is a lot of satisfaction in helping people," writes one fitness assistant department head to Glassdoor about working at Minnesota's Life Time Fitness club. Another recreation and fitness professional with Urban Active Fitness in Lexington, Ken., appreciates "The people you'll meet and relationships you'll start." So it's no surprise that as a whole, recreation and fitness occupations—aerobics instructors, camp counselors, and personal trainers—receive a boost on our Best Jobs list for their reported personal perks. The chance to be physically active and forgo a traditional 9-to-5 schedule also help boost these occupations' curb appeal. But fitness trainers earned an average $31,030 in 2011, according to the BLS. That's more than $10,000 less than the national average median wage.

Administrative Assistant

Average Salary: $31,870

No. of Openings: 118,500

Job Satisfaction: HIGH

Today's administrative assistants have evolved beyond juggling phone messages and transcribing meeting minutes. They must now be thoroughly organized, have excellent writing and editing skills, and display a knack for multitasking. Often, admin professionals fulfill the roles of project managers, secret keepers, daily planners, customer service reps, and tech support. And despite wearing so many hats around the office, the more than two million employed administrative assistants were earning a salary that's well below the national average—$30,830 in 2010. In 2011, they earned about $31,870. Corporate culture and outstanding office benefits—but not compensation—were the key contributors to this occupation securing such lofty scores for job satisfaction.

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Real Estate Agent

Average Salary: $39,070

No. of Openings: 45,000

Job Satisfaction: HIGH

The mercurial economy hasn't made a real estate agent's profession an easy one. Still, the BLS predicts approximately 45,000 openings in this occupation between now and 2020, thanks to population growth. Agents have to stay abreast to the local zoning and tax laws of various communities, plus keep a pulse on the atmosphere in communities where they might do business. Keeping tabs on market conditions is another crucial element of their occupation. This is also a job that requires copious paperwork and patience, but it's not a job that comes with copious spending change. Though the profession's highest-paid earned around $92,000 in 2011, a real estate agent's average salary was less than $40,000 that year. Some tell Glassdoor that they find reward in helping people find homes. For others, they appreciate the chance to make their own flexible schedule.

Child, Family, and School Social Worker

Average Salary: $40,680

No. of Openings: 58,200

Job Satisfaction: HIGH

The stakes are higher when a social worker has a bad day. The average, coddled office employee might become discouraged when the copier jams or the instant coffee machine goes on the fritz. But for a children, family, and school social worker, a "bad day" could entail reporting suspected child abuse, having a proposed adoption fall through, or witnessing a parent losing custody of their children. Despite the high stress, social workers report to Glassdoor that they like working with people, and get a thrill out of positively impacting the lives of others. Their tender hearts don't translate to loads of legal tender, though. The BLS reports that a social worker's median salary was $40,680 in 2011, just shy of the national average wage.