If You Work These 14 Hard Jobs, You Deserve Much Better Pay

Discover why these tough vocations are in desperate need of better compensation.
Updated April 11, 2024
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This summer, hourly wages finally began rising faster than inflation, according to data from the U.S. Labor Department. 

However, plenty of jobs that require a lot of hard work and dedication still haven’t seen the type of pay increases that can help you get ahead financially.

Here are 14 difficult jobs that tend to pay less than they should — and how much you can expect to earn while working them.

Editor's note: All salary figures are from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

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Seventyfour/Adobe diverse group of children with male teacher using laptop

Teachers are notoriously underpaid in the U.S. Working in a career that makes it difficult to lower your financial stress might force some people out of the profession.  

Teachers working in elementary schools — aside from those in special education — make $63,930 annually on average.

Those who work in secondary schools — except in special and career/technical education — have a slightly higher annual average of $69,480.

Security guards

New Africa/Adobe security guards monitoring modern CCTV

Security guards are needed in a variety of different settings, from office buildings to retail stores and sports arenas.

It can be a difficult job with unusual hours that may involve working evenings, weekends, or even overnights. Security guard jobs bring in an average of $36,700.

Emergency medical technicians (EMTs)

Graphicroyalty/Adobe young paramedic sitting in ambulance

Emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and paramedics provide emergency health care and may be responsible for transporting sick or injured patients to a hospital or other care facility.

It’s challenging work, and the hours can vary greatly, with many people working nights, weekends, and even holidays. EMTs make about $40,120 a year annually.

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Social workers

Rido/Adobe social worker talking with senior man

Social workers often take on a lot of responsibility and work in high-stress situations.

They may work at child welfare or human services agencies and schools. They also work in health care settings. The job may require work on nights and weekends.

Despite the high level of responsibility, social workers earn relatively low pay, with the average at $55,350 annually.

Nursing assistants

Nikish H/peopleimages.com/Adobe nurse with a senior patient

Nursing assistants may work in nursing or residential care facilities or in hospitals.

While the work is still challenging, and most states require certification, nursing assistants are not registered nurses (RNs), so they tend to make less money.

Nursing assistants make about $36,220 annually.


nimito/Adobe nurse mopping floor

Orderlies also work in nursing and residential care facilities or hospitals. They perform similar duties to nursing assistants. They are usually involved in helping to transport patients and keeping certain areas clean.

However, nursing assistants typically need to be certified through a state-approved program, while orderlies do not. For this reason, orderlies tend to have lower annual salaries at an average of $36,070.


goodluz/Adobe team of young chefs

Earnings for cooks vary a great deal depending on where they work and whether they can rise to the rank of chef or head cook.

Cooks work in many settings — from restaurants and schools to catering companies and private households. The hours may include late nights or early mornings, and the job can be stressful.

Cooks make about $33,940 annually. However, chefs and head cooks earn an average of $56,520.

Child care workers

Oksana Kuzmina/Adobe preschool teacher and cute kids

There are many different types of child care workers — including those who work in daycare centers and those who offer babysitting services out of their own homes. Others might work as nannies at someone else’s home.

The work often goes far beyond just playing with children, but the average salary is on the low end at just $29,570 annually.


JackF/Adobe girl cuts hair

Because hairdressers and stylists often depend on tips, how much they make can vary greatly.

There are plenty of stylists who have dedicated lists of clients and make great money, but the national average for a job that often requires night and weekend work is on the low end.

The average salary for barbers, hair stylists, and cosmetologists is just $38,910 a year.

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Delivery drivers

WavebreakMediaMicro/Adobe  A driver sitting in his delivery truck is calling a customer to receive a parcel placed on the seat.

For those who enjoy driving, working as a delivery driver may be a great gig.

However, it is frequently a physically demanding job, as drivers are expected to pick up and transport sometimes heavy packages within their delivery region on tight schedules.

The average pay for delivery truck drivers and driver/sales workers (which the BLS lumps together) is $35,560 annually.


Aitana fotografia/Adobe cleaning staff disinfecting elevator

Janitors and building cleaners often take on a lot of duties to keep their workplaces clean, sanitary, and in working order.

Because of the nature of the job, working early mornings, late nights, or weekends is typical. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always net workers better wages.

The average annual salary for janitors is about $31,990.

Taxi drivers

Syda Productions/Adobe male driver driving car

Driving a taxi is a difficult job that may require round-the-clock work, depending on the area.

Drivers who work in major cities, for example, may find they get good fares if they drive late at night and/or on the weekends when many people are enjoying nights out.

The average annual salary for taxi drivers is $32,710.

Home health aides

Halfpoint/Adobe caregiver doing regular check-up

Working in health care in any capacity can be difficult.

Home health and personal care aides monitor patients' conditions in different settings and may work in a client’s home or perform day visits. They also might work in residential facilities.

Work schedules vary since many people with disabilities or serious illnesses require regular care. The average salary remains on the low end, at $30,180.

Retail workers

JacobLund/Adobe supermarket manager giving training to a trainee

No matter which store or company employs them, retail workers must work hard to satisfy customer demands.

They also may have to work difficult hours, including nights and weekends. This may include holiday shifts when stores have big sales.

Despite wearing many hats — sales, customer service, and keeping stores clean — the average salary for retail sales workers has remained low, at $30,750 annually.

With pay that modest, retail workers might have to develop a side hustle or find another to make extra money simply to make ends meet.

Bottom line

Chanelle Malambo/peopleimages.com/Adobe angry man on laptop in office

Many of these jobs pay minimum wage or close to it. Unfortunately, with the federal minimum wage still at $7.25 per hour, the pay for many difficult jobs has remained low, making it challenging to move beyond living paycheck to paycheck.

However, some states — including Washington, California, and Massachusetts — have taken steps to combat this, raising their minimum wage to $15 and beyond.

If you work in a state where the minimum wage is too low, don’t fret: If you work hard, you might earn a promotion that will lift your wages higher.

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Author Details

Laura Gesualdi-Gilmore Laura Gesualdi-Gilmore is a seasoned freelance writer who also teaches writing courses at Rutgers University. She's based in Jersey City and enjoys travel, live music and, of course, spending quality time with her pup.

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