Even when I was a know-it-all teenager, I strongly suspected that my parents were right when they told me, “Be a doctor if you want to make the best living.” But judging from a new data dump by the U.S. Labor Department, they (and the countless others like them) were off-the-chart geniuses. For it shows that physicians flat-out dominate the rankings of America’s best-paying jobs.
These Labor Department statistics list wages for more than 800 occupations in all the nation’s metropolitan areas. So the total number of entries in this study – which you can examine on this spreadsheet – is 134,475. Then, the Department did something new. It adjusted these wages for the cost of living in these locations. And the results are startling.
Medical professionals occupied the top 242 slots in these rankings. And all but one category – nurse anesthetists in greater San Antonio, Texas – were MDs. Healthcare’s dominance extended much further down this ladder, too. Of the top 500 metro job classifications, medical professionals accounted for 488.
As expected, “chief executives” also do well in America. They represented the other classifications in the top 500, but there were only 12 of them in this group. And interestingly, they were clustered in the southeast (nine) and North Carolina in particular (six).
Not until ranking number 530 do you find a non-healthcare, non-chief executive job among the leading U.S. wage earners. That distinction belongs to economists in the Columbus, Ohio region. And remarkably, of the top 1,000 listings, only two others fell outside healthcare occupations and chief executives: training and development managers in Spartanburg, South Carolina (number 906) and judges and magistrates in some of the east suburbs of Los Angeles (number 962).
What about those information technology jobs that the conventional wisdom touts as the future of (worthwhile) U.S. employment? The first one showing up that’s a non-chief executive position comes up at number 1,362 – computer and information systems managers in Johnstown, Pennsylvania.
Some important qualifications need to be mentioned. These figures claim to measure actual pay per hour, but seem to leave out compensation like bonuses and stock options – so chief executive pay here could well be significantly understated. In addition, if national inflation (and therefore cost-of-living) data are controversial, you can bet that even more uncertainty surrounds regional figures. And of course, gauges of pay tell us nothing per se about job satisfaction or stress or anything else about non-monetary working conditions.
All the same, results this skewed toward one occupational field can hardly be ignored. They also track with healthcare’s growing share of the economy based on total spending. (It hit 17.5 percent in 2014 – up 5.3 percent over 2013 levels.) The next step for the Labor Department is to figure out how these patterns have changed over time. For now, though, it’s looking clearer than ever that my parents and their peers were right about high-paying jobs – though I’m pretty confident that they wouldn’t have advised me to move to Ft. Smith, Arkansas or Brownsville, Texas. That’s where the Labor Department tells us that doctors’ pay goes furthest.