Jobs With Surprisingly High -- And Low -- Paychecks

surprising paychecks salariesBy Susan Ricker

Paychecks can vary based on factors including industry, location and company, though there's generally a standard pay range for every job function. Yet, many people have a preconception of what workers in certain fields earn, such as the assumption that all doctors and lawyers have high incomes. However, not every job earns the high -- or low -- pay you may expect. Here are eight professions with annual wages that may surprise you.

1. Air traffic controller*
  • Median pay: $108,040
  • What they do: Air traffic controllers coordinate the movement of air traffic to ensure that planes stay safe distances apart.
  • Why the surprise: While the excitement may be on the planes with the pilots and flight attendants, the big salaries are in the air traffic control towers. Airline and commercial pilots get paid $92,060 annually, and flight attendants make $37,740, though the coordination, organization and attention to detail needed by air traffic controllers give them a major pay bump.

2. Announcer
  • Median pay: $27,010
  • What they do: Announcers present music, news and sports and may provide commentary or interview guests about these topics or other important events. Some act as a master of ceremonies or DJs at weddings, parties or clubs.
  • Why the surprise: Celebrity announcers and emcees may have the coveted paychecks, but theirs are usually due in part to their celebrity status. Events and parties often require announcers, no matter the size, and the paycheck tends to get bigger as your talent and notoriety grow.

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3. Legislator
  • Median pay: $19,260
  • What they do: Legislators are elected officials who develop laws for the federal government or for local or state governments.
  • Why the surprise: Legislators and politicians often have a reputation for being wealthy, though this median pay would suggest otherwise. While each state has its own standard for paying its legislators, many lower salaries are supplemented with a per diem, meaning they are given an allowance for daily expenses.

4. Model
  • Median pay: $32,920
  • What they do: Models pose for artists, photographers or customers to help advertise a variety of products, including clothing, cosmetics, food and appliances.
  • Why the surprise: TV and magazines would have us believe otherwise, but working as a model doesn't necessarily come with free travel opportunities and six-figure paychecks per photo shoot. Many models work part time and most experience periods of unemployment. This role requires spending a considerable amount of time on self-promotion by putting together and maintaining portfolios, printing composite cards and traveling to meet potential clients.

5. Multimedia artist and animator
  • Median pay: $58,510
  • What they do: Multimedia artists and animators create animation and visual effects for television, movies, video games and other media. They create two- and three-dimensional models and animation.
  • Why the surprise: Multimedia artists are most often hired by the motion picture and video industries, followed by software publishers, computer systems design and related services and advertising, public relations and related services industries. While these industries may be known for big budgets, the Hollywood-worthy salaries usually go to on-camera stars. Also, the pay may be a surprise considering that 59 percent of multimedia artists and animators are self-employed.

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6. Pharmacist
  • Median pay: $111,570
  • What they do: Pharmacists dispense prescription medications to patients and offer advice on their safe use.
  • Why the surprise: Education levels often make a big difference in job responsibilities and paychecks. Pharmacists require a doctoral degree and can make six-figures, while pharmacy technicians, who help licensed pharmacists dispense prescription medication, require a high school diploma or equivalent and make $28,400.

7. Political scientist
  • Median pay: $107,420
  • What they do: Political scientists study the origin, development and operation of political systems. They research political ideas and analyze the structure and operation of governments, policies, political trends and related issues. Many people with a political science background become professors and teachers.
  • Why the surprise: While the subject matter may differ, sociologists, who study society and social behavior by examining the groups, cultures, organizations, social institutions and processes that people develop, also often become professors and teachers. Yet they don't see the six-figure paycheck of political scientists, making a notably lower $72,360 a year.

8. Technical writer
  • Median pay: $63,280
  • What they do: Technical writers, also called technical communicators, produce instruction manuals and other supporting documents to communicate complex and technical information more easily. They also develop, gather and disseminate technical information among customers, designers and manufacturers.
  • Why the surprise: When it comes to salaries for writing jobs, technical writers are at the top of the food chain, earning almost $10,000 more than other writers and almost twice as much as reporters. Editors earn a median pay of $51,470, writers and authors make $55,420, and reporters, correspondents and broadcast news analysts make $36,000.

*All median annual pay figures and job descriptions are from 2010, the most recent data available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Occupational Outlook Handbook.

Susan Ricker is a writer and blogger for and its job blog, The Work Buzz. She researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues.

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