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Ten most overpaid jobs in the U.S. (marketwatch.com)
20 points by senthil_rajasek on July 23, 2008 | hide | past | web | favorite | 51 comments

Airline pilots?

This guy doesn't have a clue. Most airline pilots put in serious hours in butt-fuck nowhere until they reach at least 30, after which, if they're lucky, they get picked up by an airline to get paid something like $40K for the first 5 years until they get seniority.

Just because the cream of the crop get paid well, doesn't mean the entire industry is overpaid.

You need to take into account "trophy" labor markets. These are markets where a large number of people work insane hours and make a great deal of sacrifice all to compete for that big reward at the end.

So, although it seems like the people at the top are overpaid the position is a sort of trophy that serves as motivation to underpay a number of grunt workers. For example look at corporate law (the number of lawyers, vs. those that get partner and the real money); or investment banking; or the pilot/airline industry. All have a few top positions that few will make, but many will try to and are willing to be economically underpaid and abused for the chance to win that "trophy" at the top.

"... Just because the cream of the crop get paid well, doesn't mean the entire industry is overpaid ..."

There is also a perception Pilots get paid for flying instead of training, training, training to avoid crashing. In my view they don't get paid enough.

And his point is that the longest serving for the majors are obscenely over paid. That's why Southwest makes money and Delta loses it (not just pilots, but that's a good place to start).

Southwest makes money because they're still paying $1-something per gallon of jet fuel while everyone else is paying over $4. Years ago when prices first started to go up they contracted to buy something like 10 years of fuel at a fixed price. Right now they're doing the same thing to lock in $4-something per gallon for like 20 years. Southwest also owns every 737 that's going to come out of Boeing for the next 4 years.

Southwest doesn't make money by paying low salaries. In fact, Southwest and UPS pay the highest pilot salaries in the industry. They make money because they made very good management decisions that led to their having lower operating costs than anyone else. The fact is most airlines operate horribly inefficiently and suffer from a lack of decent management.

Anyone who says pilots are overpaid doesn't have a clue. Being a commercial pilot is akin to indentured servitude. You have a couple choices when it comes to training. You can spend $25k+ a year in order to build hours or you can work for free in return for the opportunity to fly right seat a couple times a week. After that, if you're even able to find an airline job, and not flying cargo in some rickety old wagon with wings, you can expect to get about $35k making overnight trips to someplace like Laredo, TX.

The reason airline pilots aren't overpaid is that the feeders to them are underpaid. An airline pilot has to spend at least 20 years before he gets to the 200k+ salary. A pilot usually has to pay for his own training up to Commercial Instrument/Flight Instructor, which costs about 70k.

Then he has to instruct for several years to build up flight time. Flight instructing usually pays about $15k a year. From there, he has to somehow get multiengine or turbine time, maybe flying small freight, probably at night, laying over in nowheresville, for virtually no money, maybe 15-20k. These jobs are also very hard to get.

From there, he might be able to get a job at a marginal regional airline, paying $20-30k as he moves up as a first officer. Hopefully after several years at the regional, he can move up to captain on the regional, now earning about 50k.

If the majors are hiring at that point in the economic cycle, he can now be a FO at a major airline, making 40-60k for the first few years. After maybe 8 years of that, he may make captain, and perhaps earn 100k a year, increasing as his seniority increases. Getting from 0 to captain at a major takes about 25-30 years.

On top of all of this, if at any time he his not able to meet the FAA's very stringent medical requirements, basically if he has to take almost any medication, or has any illness, he loses his medical and his career is over. Furthermore, if he makes any significant mistake in all of those late nights in bad weather, his career may be over or he will be unable to advance to the next rung. Furthermore, he's moving around every time he moves up a rung, and he can't have a normal family life when he's in some strange city half the time.

Anyone who decides to take this path does it because they love to fly, not because it is an easy buck. What's worse is that now the brass ring at the end is being eroded, and so after all of that hard work to get there, he might only end up making $100-150k at the end.

That's interesting - I always assumed that most pilots were ex-Air Force and got their training that way. If you can fly an AWACS you can fly a 747, I guess.

And it's bullshit. A $250K pilot is typically:

1. An airforce veteran, possibly with combat experience. 2. Capable and qualified at flying every aircraft in the fleet. 3. Capable of training younger pilots. 4. Probably has 10000 hours + of flying time.

His point that it's largely an "automated job" is ignorant. Everything is automated, sure, until the engine flames out, you have a major system failure on takeoff or approach, or you run out of fuel, like this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gimli_Glider

But we're talking about salary, not "impressive stuff on the resume". The market value of combat experience per se is basically zero (or else veterans would make more than non-veterans at other jobs, which they don't). Being able to fly other aircraft is irrelevant when all you ever touch is an A330. These guys can probably drive lots of cars too, but they don't get paid extra for it. Training ability has value, but not that much more than the value of those being trained (or else, again, we'd see teachers paid more generally). Likewise long experience is a wash in our society. We don't value it per se.

And with your emergency management point, you need to show that senior pilots (as opposed to pilots generally) actually correlate with people who are more capable of avoiding crashes. I'm not sure that's true at all. Note that the fuel exhaustion emergency you reference was the pilots' fault in the first place (along with some dumb procedures by the airline too). History is filled with both young and old pilots who have saved (and crashed) their aircraft with their skills (or mistakes).

Again, the point here was "senior pilots are paid more than they are worth". Your response is more along the lines of "senior pilots are really cool and totally deserve it!", which is sort of non-responsive.

The real reason that senior pilots are paid so much is that they are unionized, skill-essential employees who don't compete in a market with non-union equivalents (the proof here being that non-union pilots in commuter jobs get paid dirt wages). This is exactly the same reason that the longshormen in the article are overpaid. It's dumb, but it's not so dumb that employers want to rock the boat trying to fix it.

Just don't fool yourself into thinking that any of this has to do with their l33t skilz. It's a market thing.

1. Combat experience is zero for pretty much anyone, with the exception of a pilot. Because pilots are evaluated by their performance in super stressful situations that require quick thinking, combat is valued. Same goes for hours in cockpit. Greater the number of hours, the more likely you've run into "situations", the more accurate the pilot can be evaluated. Good ones rise to the top.

2. Being able to fly multiple aircraft is highly relevant because it makes you more valuable to the company, and to other companies. If Airline x flies A330s, 767s and a bunch of Embreaers, and you already know how to handle all three, you are in an exceptional position.

3. Emergency management going hand in hand with experience is commonplace in the industry, factual or not. Given car insurance premiums, (new drivers pay more for a reason) and the increased complexity of piloting an aircraft, I'd certainly accept the common knowledge.

I'll give you the union deal. That certainly will always have the effect of inflating salaries. I'm not sure I can take that to mean that senior pilots are all a bunch of overpaid bums, as that FA was suggesting.

"... . Because pilots are evaluated by their performance in super stressful situations that require quick thinking, combat is valued ..."

And the aptitude and training to deal with catastrophic failure. Why is it we demand the "best surgeons" to operate on individuals but not the "best aviators" where many lives are at risk?

The big deal with military experience is that it's just about the only way to rack up a lot of flight time on commercial-grade gear without having a money tree growing in the back yard.

I don't think airlines necessary value "combat pilot", but that a larger percentage of people with the required amount of flight time tend to have logged that time in the military.

The market value of combat experience per se is basically zero (or else veterans would make more than non-veterans at other jobs, which they don't)

Does this not adjust for the kinds of jobs they get? I would expect that to be true of many variables, e.g. people without a degree may perform just as well as people with a degree in the same job, because without a degree you have to impress employers in other ways.

I didn't realise it worked like that. Perhaps that is the problem, its the common perception rather then the reality.

I have to agree. My father worked in the airline industry for thirty years and we had a number of pilots who were friends of the family.

They have to bust their ass to even get a commercial flight licence, it's harder than going to medical school. They end up heavily underpaid for most of their working life, for what they do.

All to chase that big final reward. Which few end up getting.

Wedding photographers? Huh? Most people I know paid about $2K for their wedding photographer. Let's say a really good photographer can book both days of the weekend for 40 weekends a year. So he or she brings in $160,000 -- before paying for all the film and processing fees?

Not sure how making somewhere in the low-to-mid $100Ks for having to work on most weekends gets you on the same list as mutual fund managers and bad CEOs. Sounds like the author had a recent bad experience booking a photographer if you ask me.

Could not agree more. I know it first hand that wedding photographers are probably the most underpaid kind: even though I love photography, but sitting in a quiet cubicle writing 5 lines of Java a day and hacking on your own stuff for fun at average "corporate IT Job" is by FAR easier money.

Even if you charge $3K per wedding, you still (most probably) won't be able to book every single weekend, pay shitload to private medical insurance (like $1.5K/mo), work your ass off post-processing 2-3 thousand photos you take per wedding, and yes - deal with hysterical bitchez who had absolutely no life for a whole year planning this "day of their life".

Wedding photographers are either: bored housewifes making little money on a side, producing mediocre results, or talented people who are unable to find any other way to make money on photography: they work really hard and get paid well, but that money is hard earned.

And this is how you do it: http://juliabailey.com/

This is an old article (2003) and the wedding photographer claim has already been rebutted many times over. Most wedding photographers are BROKE.


note the link probably doesn't work as the reliability of photo.net has taken a nosedive over the past year.

His point seemed to be that bad wedding photographers were grossly overpaid. I agree not on the same level as mutual fund managers and bad CEOs, but probably on the same level as the West Coasters he mentions.

I am a photographer myself. I don't do it professionally -- I don't try to do it professionaly -- because I enjoy it as a hobby, and don't like the pressure of doing photographic work for others. I did photograph a wedding for a friend because they asked me to, and it was very very stressful and complicated. Wedding photography is not easy.

Good wedding photography is even harder. I am getting married this fall, and was shocked at the mediocrity of most local wedding photographers. I could hardly believe some of them claimed to run a wedding photography business. Not necessarily "bad" photos, but, photos lacking character and interest to the degree that they might as well have been taken by random people at the wedding than by a "professional" photographer.

But this is also true in other fields. There are mediocre software engineers who hide in the bureaucracy of large companies and get the same salary, plus or minus 5%, as really good software engineers at the company.

Hmmm - perhaps the best advice to anyone getting married might be: buy a dozen digital camers and give them to friends and family to use at the wedding and have a good chance of getting more good photos than the median wedding photographer.

We did just this. It worked out wonderfully. 200 disposable cameras (hey, it was 1999), 27 pictures each. This is a @#$%load of photos folks. 90% of them were total crap. 7% of them were way-cool novelties, 3% of them were pure gold that no wedding photographer could have captured. We had a traditional wedding potog take the usual pictures that no one looks at as well.

Pictures were taken at the wedding, the reception, and the after-party. At the end of it all, we mailed out cd-roms of the best pictures to everyone who attended. (These cd's had, incidentally, also been the invitations. Bring your invitation along, get photos of the event!)

I highly recommend it to one and all. Crowd-sourced photos rock.

He mentioned that anyone who did mediocre work just to get to the job they really wanted was overpaid. I'd say that's true all they way down the line... including journalists who slap together worse top 10 lists than most bloggers.

if you reverse that math, you're looking at a job that, if you worked the normal 9-5, you'd be making in the neighborhood of $250k/yr.

i'd love to work 2 days a week and still make six figures.

The thing is, you don't just work two days a week as a wedding photographer. As the article mentions, there's almost 20 hours of work for a single client, given the initial consultation and any other legwork you have to do. If I remember correctly, my wedding photographer, who we paid $2K, also included engagement photos in the package, which were taken on a different weekend.

Anyway, not trying to make this into a photography thread, but just pointing out that the original article is a bit strange.

i stand corrected. two and a half days a week for six figures. hell, i'd be happy with two and a half days a week for a mid to high five figures. leaves me plenty of spare days a week to work on my bootstrapped projects

And, as other people have noted, hours upon hours of photo processing, consultations and contracts, and dealing with potentially high-string couples and their families.

My fiancee did a wedding and it was probably about three weeks of work, overall, along with several meetings beforehand. (That was as a freelance wedding videographer, not photographer, though. A photographer would probably have less editing time, but not significantly less.)

I think part of the issue is that so many people think that photography is easy, just because digital cameras these days are so capable.

The reality is that even excluding the pressure associated with photographing something that may well be a once-in-a-lifetime event for the couple who hired you, good photography requires skill, talent, and experience.

He also ignores the fact that aside from hours of shooting, the wedding photographer also has to process the photos and create the albums, all told its many more hours of work. It's a grind.

It's interesting to try to tease out what factors might contribute to these jobs being overpaid:

1. Fear: Wedding photographers, pilots, longshoremen & orthodontists

2. Creaming a little from a lot: Skycaps, real estate agents, mutual-fund managers

3. Scarcity: lecture circuit

4. Legacy: longshoremen, old CEOs & athletes

Quote from George Foreman about longshoremen:

Mr. Foreman, who stared down financial collapse as an adult despite a troubled, impoverished childhood, said he knew real wealth when he saw it. “If you’re confident, you’re wealthy,” he says. “I’ve seen guys who work on a ship channel and they get to a certain point and they’re confident. You can look in their faces, they’re longshoremen, and they have this confidence about them...I’ve seen a lot of guys with millions and they don’t have any confidence,” he says. “So they’re not wealthy.”

I like your categorisation of wedding photographers under "fear" - thats exactly what it is. I know from experience, your wedding photos will only serve as a source of embarrasment for many many years in the future. they only real value is for future generations to have a chuckle.

Somewhere there must be a top 10 list of most overused internet memes, which unsurprisingly would include top 10 lists.

Meanwhile, I am working on my top 10 list of top 10 lists.

Um, this article is from 2003. WTH?

I work with wedding photographers (providing web solutions). They are not overpaid because they are self-employed and paid directly by their customers. If brides are willing to pay their going rate, how is that being "overpaid"?

This article is either baloney or outdated. Or both.

I work with wedding photographers (providing web solutions). They are not overpaid because they are self-employed and paid directly by their customers. If brides are willing to pay their going rate, how is that being "overpaid"?

I think the point was that a saner price would be lower. He's not saying that they should be regulated, just that you'd be stupid to buy from them.

As a photographer who's done a couple of weddings, you have no freaking idea how much time goes into it. The sales cycle takes time. Dealing with Bride-zilla and Mom-zilla is always lots of fun. Then usually you do engagement photos, often outdoors somewhere. Figure an hour of driving, a couple hours of shooting. Maybe 8 hours of post-processing the 500 pictures:) Maybe less if you're conservative.

Then the wedding itself. Wake up before dawn, pack up your gear. Drive to wherever the event is happening. Get a lay of the land, figure out where people will standing, how the light will be at X o'clock, etc... Then you run around all day with a heavy pack and a heavy camera shooting the bride and her bridesmaids hanging out in her big hotel room. The makeup artist working on each of the girls. The hair stylist doing each girl. Mom lacing up the corset. Etc... This is 3-4 hours, maybe more. Then over to the grooms room, repeat, only much quicker. Then slam in new batteries, new CF cards, and jog a mile to the church. Shoot people walking in, sitting down, etc.. The whole ceremony, which can take hours and hours. Then take the bride and groom off for their own photos. Then reception photos. Then dinner photos. Then dancing photos. Wrap up around 2 AM after a 20 hour day on your feet with a 20 lb bag on your back and a 8 lb lump that you're holding up to your eye all day. Drive home.

Spend 2-3 days post-processing. Spend another day laying out books. Realize the check they gave you isn't signed, and they're on honeymoon for three more weeks.


It's physically taxing, and at the end of the day your hourly rate is hilariously low. And you only work a few weekends in the summer. It's a very hard way to make a buck.

He should have said that you'd be stupid to hire a mediocre wedding photographer instead of a good one.

The catch is that the good ones charge more than the mediocre ones, who shouldn't get paid at all.

That just underscores how outdated this article is. The industry has gone through a lot of changes in just a couple years.

You can get a wedding photographer on Craigslist for $400. I also have friends/customers who get $15K to shoot a wedding (yes, $15K).

You can get a haircut for $15 at Supercuts, but you can also go to a luxury spa and get your hair done for $250. Does that mean hair stylists are overpaid? No.

There's no such thing as overpaid in a self-employed, service industry–especially those that cater to upper-class individuals. If people are paying your rates, then your prices are spot on (or too low).

Yeah this list is pretty old -- it doesn't have 'social media consultants'.

In a free market, the idea of a particular profession being "overpaid" is just silly. People are paid exactly as much as they are worth to their employer... If there was someone better who would do the job for less, they would be replaced.

>People are paid exactly as much as they are worth to their employer.

Or is it as much as they can "charge" their employer?

Most of these are overpaid because of a labor cartel that limits supply, like in the case of orthodontists and longshoremen. They're worthy of an anti-trust case.

God forbid that anyone should be in a union, or organize to demand decent pay and benefits. Why, they might go on strike!

What a load of right-wing garbage.

heaven forbid anyone get paid the fair market value of their labor. instead lets have a bunch of thugs threaten to go on strike and prevent anyone else from working to artificially drive up their wages.

(excuse my ignorance but..) did heavy unionisation happen in the US motor industry?

um, yes.

So it worked out just super !

An anecdote is not a trend.

I was being sarcastic ;)

Thank God, I was getting worried! :-)

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