If you would rather use a number from another occupation on the survey, you can insert one from the attached list of 894 occupations compiled by the census department, as of 2008. Many of these are no surprise; parking lot attendants, sewing machine operators, shampoors, and coatroom attendants make very little money; about $9 an hour, or $20,000 or so per year.

At the high end, surgeons are the only occupational group where the average salary is over $200,000, but a number of others break the $100,000 barrier; CEOs, various types of business managers, computer researchers, petroleum engineers, physicists, lawyers and judges, dentists, doctors, and psychiatrists, airline pilots and air traffic controllers. No great surprises here.

What is surprising is that almost 1 in 5 federal employees make over $100,000. There are 350,000 mail carriers, a job that requires few skills or education, and involves little stress. Yet the average mail carrier makes about $24 an hour, while the average waiter or waitress makes about the same as the average cook; both very demanding and stressful jobs, yet paying, on average, only $9 or $10 an hour. Clearly, in many cases, incomes have more to do with the power of organized labor and politics than with the amount of value added by workers.

There are two opposing tendencies to watch out for in analyzing average incomes. One is with the glamour professions; sports and entertainment, among others. While you hear all the time about athletes and entertainers making millions, that is only true for those at the top. The average professional athlete makes $79,000 a year, while the average actor makes $16 an hour. Professional singers and musicians make, on average, about $21 an hour. For every actor making millions, there are many, many more making almost nothing, so averages become somewhat meaningless.

The other tendency moves in the opposite direction. The attached charts are for averages, and for leaders, especially those working in certain niches in the power cities, wages will be far higher. While the average surgeon makes $207,000, a heart surgeon working in New York could easily makes over $1M a year. While a typical lawyer might make in the low six figures, a typical partner at a Washington DC law firm will make in the low seven figures. CEOs of Fortune 500 corporations make far more than the CEOs of smaller companies. For all occupations, wages will tend to be significantly higher in urban locations with high costs of living.

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