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By Jack Ganssle

Does Engineering Pay Well?

Summary: How much is enough? Rockefeller said "just a little more." Engineers do well compared to other Americans.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics tracks wages across a wide swath of jobs. I was digging through the 2008 numbers (http://www.bls.gov/ncs/ncswage2008.pdf), the latest I could find, and found some fascinating factoids.

We engineers in the US make gobs of money.

The average full time worker employed in the private sector in the United States makes $44k/year (that's straight pay and does not include benefits). That employee puts in 2050 hours per year. According to http://www.ssa.gov/OACT/COLA/central.html that wage has doubled since 1990 while the consumer price index has gone up only 65% in the same period (http://www.bls.gov/data/inflation_calculator.htm).

Engineers make twice as much, or more. I can't parse the nuances of these titles, but mean income for computer programmers is $73k. EEs make $86k. Computer software engineers (applications) pull down $89k, while computer software engineers net $91k. Figure $98k for computer hardware engineers and $119k for engineering managers.

Who fares the worst? Lifeguards and the ski patrol, though they are seasonal workers so I don't understand how they appear in the "full time" tables. Next, those who make the world go around: food handlers, child care workers, parking lot attendants, and a whole rash of important but poorly paid folks. 32 of the 700 categories net less than $20k/year for full-time work. That's the bottom 5%.

The top 5% of jobs garner over $100k per year. 90% of job categories make less than $80k, so we engineers do earn comparatively luxurious incomes, for about the same number of hours per year as everyone else.

The most casual look at the data shows that a college education is the passport to good earnings, with by far the most degreed people making more, often a lot more, than the national average. Pound that into your kids' zeitgeist.

How about CEOs? The mean is $277k, or six times that of the average worker, though the boss works 15% more hours per year. Their median income is $188k so the average is probably skewed by a relative paucity of astronomical incomes. Only anesthesiologists ($294k) make more.

I didn't find listings for politician. But according to http://usgovinfo.about.com/od/uscongress/a/congresspay.htm members of Congress make $174k/year, putting them in the top 0.5% of all professions. Of course, they do have the Herculean task of setting their own salaries.

Published May 14, 2010