Overworked and Underpaid: Essential Positions that Don’t Earn Nearly Enough

Many of the country’s most essential workers don’t earn enough money to survive. People serving in vital industries rarely make what they’re worth but often do their jobs out of love and passion. 

Here are the top positions that earn far less than they should. 

EMT Workers

EMT Workers loading an ambulance.
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When you’ve dialed 911 for an emergency medical condition, the ambulance driver coming to rescue you barely earns enough to survive. 

Many only earn between $10-15 per hour.


nurse helping an elderly patient using a walker.
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Nursing aids and assistances at long-term care facilities aren’t real nurses, and their pay reflects that. They work long hours dressing wounds, cleaning soiled diapers, and helping patients maintain their dignity for very little money. 

The worst part about this is how expensive caregiving is. The facility siphons as much money as it can from its patients, but most goes to corporate executives and shareholders, while essential workers earn a pittance. 


Smiling teacher inn her classroom. The kids are working on their assignments.
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Teachers are notoriously underpaid. They educate our children, deal with unruly parents, and are the first to take the blame when a child acts out. 

They’re also a favorite target for politicians looking to cut budgets. 

Farm Workers

tractor on a farm field
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Fresh food is cheap because we pay farm workers so little. Many crops are too sensitive for machines and must be picked by hand. Farm workers spend long hours in the field, ensuring those crops get to your table but rarely earn enough to survive. 

Social Workers

Therapist listening to her patient holding a clipboard.
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Social work requires a master’s degree, but they don’t earn enough to justify it. Social workers help society’s downtrodden, provide essential mental health care, and help people get back on their feet, but they only earn between $40,000-60,000 per year if they’re lucky. 

Try surviving on that while paying student loans for the required education to understand why filling these essential positions is so tricky. 


A firefighter running up the stairs in a burning building.
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Some cities pay their firefighters decent wages via tax collection, but many are severely underpaid, and many still serve as volunteers. 

Wildland firefighters have the worst deal. They’re out in the brush battling massive forest fires but aren’t paid much. 

Food Service

woman serving food at a fast food restaurant counter
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Food service workers are lucky to get minimum wage. They’re also the first to be derided for wanting more. 

“Why should you get $15 an hour for flipping burgers?” ask the masses, ignoring that we all want our food to be cooked and handled safely. 

Retail Workers

Smiling retail worker wearing a smock at her check out stand.
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Retail work is easier than food service, but both have one challenging component of their job that should demand higher pay: Dealing with customers. 

Low-paid service workers deal with the worst of humanity. Rude people take their bad day out on service staff, treating them like the gum you scrape off your shoe. 

They all deserve better. 


woman wearing cleaning gloves shouting with her hands on the side of her head. She's stressed out over spring cleaning
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Janitors and custodians don’t make enough money to deal with biohazards. They toil long hours scrubbing toilets, and as a bonus, everyone looks down on them. 

Daycare Workers

Angry child screaming.
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Daycare workers care for infants and toddlers. They care for the most vulnerable members of society and are lucky if they make minimum wage for their efforts. 

You couldn’t pay me enough to wrangle ten toddlers for nine hours a day. 


Giraffe head looking at camera
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I wanted to be a zookeeper until I learned they make just above minimum wage. Zookeepers work long, hard hours to keep their animals well cared for but barely earn enough to survive and repay their student loans (as most positions require at least a bachelor’s degree.)

They get away with it because people are so passionate about the work. 


Potrait of female doctor smiling for camera
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We often call doctors high earners,  but many don’t earn enough for what they do and to offset the cost of their education. 

It can balance out once you’re far advanced in your career and go into a specialty. Still, early-career doctors are overworked and underpaid, especially when you factor in their massive student loan burden. 

Why Are These Folks Underpaid? America’s Toxic Work Culture Might Explain

man at work looks really bored and unhappy
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Our work culture is destroying us. Find out how. 

Read it Here: America’s Toxic Work Culture

Low Pay is One of Many Reasons Why No One Wants To Work Anymore

woman throwing papers behind her as she quits her job.
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The common boomer refrain derides younger generations for refusing awful working conditions. Are they right?

Find out why no one wants to work anymore

How To Escape the Little Box Society Wants You In

couple sitting at a table. Man looks happy, woman looks bored.
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Find out how the life script keeps us trapped and miserable.

Is America Actually Dystopian?

Panaoramic of a city with the top mirroring the bottom in a fantastical manner.
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Although there are many fantastic things about living in the US, some of our systems and laws leave many scratching their heads, wondering if we’re already living in a dystopian nightmare. 

Here’s the evidence that makes us wonder if America is actually a dystopia.  

If America is the Best, Why Can’t We Have Nice Things?

Woman holding an American Flag over her head.
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Everyone claims America is the best country in the world, but other Western nations put us to shame. Here’s the cool perks other countries provide their citizens that we wish we had in the States

Source: Reddit