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Worst jobs in America

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Kondor83 // Shutterstock

Worst jobs in America

You might think your job is terrible. But is it the worst? Many of the most-loathed gigs in America involve manual labor and have terrible growth opportunities. Others have low pay, a lot of stress, and are hard on the human body. Using data from PayScale and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Stacker surveyed 500 occupations to come up with 50 jobs that have the highest Job Misery Index.

Findings were based on four factors. The first is “high meaning,” which means if the score on this factor was low, then it lifted the overall misery index. Similarly, a low “high satisfaction” score raised the Job Misery Index. Stacker additionally looked at the median 2017 incomes from government statistics, assuming a lower median income boosts job misery. Finally, Stacker assessed government data on projected employment changes by 2026. A weak employment-change projection would boost the misery index. All four of these indexes were then weighed equally to calculate an overall misery index value for each job.

Read on to learn whether your job made the list of the 50 worst jobs in America.

RELATED: Jobs expected to grow the most by 2026

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railfan 44 // Wikimedia Commons

#50. Railroad conductors and yardmasters

Job Misery Index: 82.8

'High meaning' score: 39%

'High satisfaction' score: 48%

Median wage: $60,300

Projected employment change by 2026: -2.1%

Railroad conductors sync train activities while yardmasters review schedules and coordinate workers. Long years on the job add up to dissatisfaction pretty fast. PayScale estimates that only 10% of railroad conductors and yardmasters are still in the industry after 20 years.

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United States Navy // Wikimedia Commons

#49. File clerks

Job Misery Index: 83.2

'High meaning' score: 42%

'High satisfaction' score: 62%

Median wage: $30,120

Projected employment change by 2026: -10.4%

A file clerk is typically responsible for jobs like sorting mail and typing, responsibilities that become monotonous very quickly given this job’s high misery index. The average wage for a file clerk is just $12.99 per hour, which might be why most file clerks have fewer than 10 years of experience.

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Senior Airman Kaleb Snay // US Air Force

#48. Stock clerks and order fillers

Job Misery Index: 83.2

'High meaning' score: 36%

'High satisfaction' score: 56%

Median wage: $24,470

Projected employment change by 2026: +5%

Stock clerks spend their days unpacking merchandise and stocking it in stores. PayScale says that while a fair percentage of people report average satisfaction with this position, the downside is that not all workers have health benefits.

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Kgequipment // Wikimedia Commons

#47. Structural metal fabricators and fitters

Job Misery Index: 83.3

'High meaning' score: 49%

'High satisfaction' score: 58%

Median wage: $38,450

Projected employment change by 2026: -15.3%

A structural fitter puts metal parts together with hammers, saws, and other tools to create a finished project. How much a person is paid—the average is $18.43—depends greatly on how long they have been working the job, as well as their employer.

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Airman 1st Class Andrew Moua // US Air Force

#46. New accounts clerks

Job Misery Index: 83.3

'High meaning' score: 40%

'High satisfaction' score: 58%

Median wage: $35,260

Projected employment change by 2026: -6.2%

New accounts clerks interview prospective customers looking to start a relationship with a bank or another similar company. The employment outlook for this female-dominated occupation isn’t promising, as a lot of people turn to the internet to do their banking and other tasks. 

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Crew // Wikimedia Commons

#45. Bartenders

Job Misery Index: 83.5

'High meaning' score: 32%

'High satisfaction' score: 61%

Median wage: $21,690

Projected employment change by 2026: +2.5%

Pouring glasses of wine and making gin martinis may not carry too much weight in the grand scheme of things, but most bartenders tend to feel satisfied in their jobs—perhaps in part because of their interactions with customers. With an hourly rate of just $7.85, bartenders depend greatly on tips to make a living.

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Jorge Royan // Wikimedia Commons

#44. Cooks, restaurant

Job Misery Index: 84

'High meaning' score: 33%

'High satisfaction' score: 51%

Median wage: $25,180

Projected employment change by 2026: +11.8%

More than half of the restaurant cooks surveyed reported satisfaction in the kitchen, although it seems cooks struggle as much as bartenders to find meaning in their work. And with a median wage of $10.42 an hour, many might struggle to make a living without getting tips.

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U.S. Air Force photo // Airman 1st Class Greg Erwin

#43. Coating, painting, and spraying machine setters, operators, and tenders

Job Misery Index: 84

'High meaning' score: 42%

'High satisfaction' score: 51%

Median wage: $33,820

Projected employment change by 2026: 0%

Those in this position operate machines that paint products such as ceramics, metal, or plastic. The future for spray machine operators calls for more sluggish growth than most occupations in the American economy by 2020, partly because the industry is becoming more automated.

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flowcomm // Flickr

#42. Hosts and hostesses, restaurant, lounge, and coffee Shop

Job Misery Index: 84.1

'High meaning' score: 33%

'High satisfaction' score: 56%

Median wage: $20,930

Projected employment change by 2026: +6.9%

A host or hostess is in charge of welcoming customers and seating them at available tables. The average hourly wage is $9.23 per hour, though people don’t typically make it a lifelong career. A whopping 82% of hosts and hostesses last less than five years.

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Marcin Monko // Flickr

#41. Computer operators

Job Misery Index: 84.1

'High meaning' score: 43%

'High satisfaction' score: 64%

Median wage: $44,270

Projected employment change by 2026: -22.8%

Computer operators monitor computer hardware systems to ensure that they are processing accurate data for the institution they are enlisted to support. PayScale estimates that less than two-thirds of the median take-home pay can be attributed to commissions.

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Helloahappysa // Wikimedia Commons

#40. Baggage porters and bellhops

Job Misery Index: 84.6

'High meaning' score: 33%

'High satisfaction' score: 53%

Median wage: $23,230

Projected employment change by 2026: +8.2%

It seems helping people with their bags doesn’t offer much happiness, especially when the average wage is $10 an hour. Most porters and bellhops count on tips to supplement their incomes. The position is also physically demanding, especially for those working long hours.

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chainarong06 // Shutterstock

#39. Telemarketers

Job Misery Index: 84.8

'High meaning' score: 46%

'High satisfaction' score: 50%

Median wage: $24,460

Projected employment change by 2026: 0%

It isn’t easy being a telemarketer. By most accounts, it’s incredibly difficult to sell items over the phone. And no one likes being hung up on—especially not for around $24,000 a year.

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Ildar Sagdejev // Wikimedia Commons

#38. Industrial truck and tractor operators

Job Misery Index: 84.8

'High meaning' score: 29%

'High satisfaction' score: 53%

Median wage: $33,630

Projected employment change by 2026: +6.6%

Moving materials around a warehouse or a factory might pay decently at $17 an hour; but it doesn’t provide much job satisfaction, ranking on the index at a total score of 84.8. The top-paying industry for this occupation is electric power generation, transmission, and distribution at $59,420.

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skeeze // Pixabay

#37. Laborers and freight, stock, and material movers, hand

Job Misery Index: 84.9

'High meaning' score: 37%

'High satisfaction' score: 49%

Median wage: $27,040

Projected employment change by 2026: +7.6%

These laborers move materials with their hands. While there’s typically on-the-job training, there’s no formal education required. The employment rate for this industry is estimated to rise 7% between 2016 and 2026, which the government estimates is as fast as the average for other occupations.

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Emilio Labrador // Wikimedia Commons

#36. Waiters and waitresses

Job Misery Index: 85

'High meaning' score: 30%

'High satisfaction' score: 56%

Median wage: $20,820

Projected employment change by 2026: +7%

While waiters and waitresses don’t make much salary, they typically make up for it in tips. Still, it’s an industry with high turnover. Only 5% of waiters and waitresses have spent 20 years or more on the job. Government data show that tips are usually higher in major cities, such as Boston and San Francisco.

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Karl Hols // Flickr

#35. Data entry keyers

Job Misery Index: 85.3

'High meaning' score: 49%

'High satisfaction' score: 61%

Median wage: $30,930

Projected employment change by 2026: -21.2%

The vast majority of data entry keyers work as administrative assistants and office managers, and 61% are women. While the median wage isn’t stellar, data entry keyers who work in the deep sea, coastal, and Great Lakes water transportation industry will earn the most.

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U.S. Navy // Wikimedia Commons

#34. Combined food preparation and serving workers, including fast food

Job Misery Index: 85.3

'High meaning' score: 33%

'High satisfaction' score: 46%

Median wage: $20,180

Projected employment change by 2026: +16.8%

While the median wage is low for this industry, those who work in food preparation for rail transportation stand to make more than twice that amount. California, Florida, New York, Texas, and Ohio have the highest employment levels for food prep and serving workers in the country.

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Tomwsulcer // Wikimedia Commons

#33. Counter attendants, cafeteria, food concession, and coffee shop

Job Misery Index: 85.3

'High meaning' score: 33%

'High satisfaction' score: 55%

Median wage: $21,280

Projected employment change by 2026: +4.6%

This position ranks low for having real meaning, but employment is expected to grow. Heartland states such as South Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin have some of the highest concentration of these workers, according to government data. In addition, the West Coast has some of the highest wages for workers in restaurants and coffee shops.

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Swoolverton // Wikimedia Commons

#32. Molding, coremaking, and casting machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal, and plastic

Job Misery Index: 85.4

'High meaning' score: 46%

'High satisfaction' score: 58%

Median wage: $31,090

Projected employment change by 2026: -15%

While employment prospects for this sector aren’t exactly stellar, thanks to automation, those in eastern Ohio might have better luck. Experience also has a moderate impact on pay for those working in these jobs.

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Tomwsulcer // Wikimedia Commons

#31. Retail salespersons

Job Misery Index: 85.4

'High meaning' score: 35%

'High satisfaction' score: 55%

Median wage: $23,210

Projected employment change by 2026: +1.7%

Difficult customers and long days on your feet: Working in retail isn’t easy. Some say learning other skills can help boost a career. In retail, that might mean someone who works the floor learning how to use the cash register; or taking business classes to pursue opening a shop of one’s own.

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Tech. Sgt. Chrissy Best // US Air Force

#30. Shipping, receiving, and traffic clerks

Job Misery Index: 85.6

'High meaning' score: 32%

'High satisfaction' score: 55%

Median wage: $31,810

Projected employment change by 2026: 0%

On a typical day, these clerks verify records on incoming and outgoing shipments, and prepare items for shipment. The repetitiveness can get old quickly. Some tough it out for a better payoff: Clerks working for the postal service can expect the highest average salary in this sector at close to $59,000.

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John Wagner // Wikimedia Commons

#29. Sewing machine operators

Job Misery Index: 85.7

'High meaning' score: 43%

'High satisfaction' score: 63%

Median wage: $24,320

Projected employment change by 2026: -16.7%

Sewing machine operators rank higher on satisfaction than other positions. Monitoring machines, matching cloth, and keeping threads and bobbins loaded inspires 63% of these workers to report feeling gratified by the opportunity to make someone’s life better.

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Thommess // Wikimedia Commons

#28. Desktop publishers

Job Misery Index: 85.8

'High meaning' score: 39%

'High satisfaction' score: 57%

Median wage: $42,350

Projected employment change by 2026: -14%

A desktop publisher designs the layouts for print and online materials, including newspapers, books, magazines, and more, using computer software. A lot of desktop publishers move on to become graphic designers, even though these positions on average pay even less.

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Wellness GM // Flickr

#27. Word processors and typists

Job Misery Index: 86

'High meaning' score: 50%

'High satisfaction' score: 65%

Median wage: $39,740

Projected employment change by 2026: -33.1%

While the employment future for typists isn’t strong, those who do this job feel relatively content with the work they do. Many go on to become office managers when they want to advance their careers.

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NAVFAC // Flickr

#26. Home appliance repairers

Job Misery Index: 86.1

'High meaning' score: 44%

'High satisfaction' score: 47%

Median wage: $38,160

Projected employment change by 2026: -4.2%

Home appliance repairers have seen job prospects dwindle as more people turn to the internet for help fixing things around the house. Those working in electronics and appliance stores stand the best chance of staying employed.

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Laurens Sanders // Wikimedia Commons

#25. Heat treating equipment setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic

Job Misery Index: 86.1

'High meaning' score: 38%

'High satisfaction' score: 59%

Median wage: $37,300

Projected employment change by 2026: -14.2%

Workers in this industry set up, repair, and operate heating equipment for on average $17.04 an hour. It’s another shrinking industry, seeing decreased prospects in coming years as work becomes more mechanized. These jobs also require a lot of manual labor, which burns out workers so only 15% of people in this industry have 20 years of experience or more.

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Rhk111 // Wikimedia Commons

#24. Welding, soldering, and brazing machine setters, operators, and tenders

Job Misery Index: 86.5

'High meaning' score: 26%

'High satisfaction' score: 63%

Median wage: $37,190

Projected employment change by 2026: -10.2%

Automation has played a role in grim employment statistics for this profession. One uptick has been in the increasing number of women seeking out this kind of employment in an otherwise male-dominated industry. There was a deficit in skilled-trade workers a decade ago, which led to efforts to recruit more women.

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Dispossessed1974 // Wikimedia Commons

#23. Multiple machine tool setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic

Job Misery Index: 86.6

'High meaning' score: 35%

'High satisfaction' score: 52%

Median wage: $34,800

Projected employment change by 2026: -2.7%

Those who work this job in the aerospace-manufacturing industry on average make around $49,000, far above the median wage. While employment is expected to decline in the coming years, the decrease is far less compared to other manual labor professions.

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Dwight Burdette // Wikimedia Commons

#22. Driver/sales workers

Job Misery Index: 86.8

'High meaning' score: 37%

'High satisfaction' score: 53%

Median wage: $24,040

Projected employment change by 2026: -1.5%

This occupation title specifically refers to delivery truck drivers and sales workers who operate on a local level, bringing packages, take-out, or other items to customers. E-commerce is increasing the demand for these local drivers, but much of the profits from deliveries goes to large companies rather than to the drivers themselves.

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Myfuture.com // Flickr

#21. Tellers

Job Misery Index: 88

'High meaning' score: 33%

'High satisfaction' score: 57%

Median wage: $28,110

Projected employment change by 2026: -8.3%

The bank teller has become all but obsolete in an era of online banking and ATMs. Plus, bank branches are expensive to operate. A fair number of people in this profession don’t have benefits, which might also help explain the low satisfaction.

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viviandnguyen_ // Flickr

#20. Packers and packagers, hand

Job Misery Index: 88.1

'High meaning' score: 34%

'High satisfaction' score: 50%

Median wage: $23,430

Projected employment change by 2026: +1.8%

There has been a shrinking need for human packers and packages as companies like Amazon increasingly automate tasks. Most hand packagers also move on to find other employment once accumulating more than a decade of experience.

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Dinma Nwankwo // Wikimedia Commons

#19. Cutting, punching, and press machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal, and plastic

Job Misery Index: 88.3

'High meaning' score: 39%

'High satisfaction' score: 51%

Median wage: $33,060

Projected employment change by 2026: -8.7%

Those who work in the automotive or contracting industries stand to make above the median wage for this industry. The Midwest, California, and Texas have the most job opportunities for those doing this kind of work, although there are not many jobs available for workers who specialize in these tasks.

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Shannon E. Renfroe // Wikimedia Commons

#18. Motorboat mechanics and service technicians

Job Misery Index: 88.9

'High meaning' score: 29%

'High satisfaction' score: 48%

Median wage: $38,960

Projected employment change by 2026: -0.5%

Working as a motorboat mechanic doesn’t seem to offer much in the way of satisfaction. The employment market has improved a notch recently, as sales of boats have been the healthiest they’ve been in years.

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Ardfern // Wikimedia Commons

#17. Jewelers and precious stone and metal workers

Job Misery Index: 89.2

'High meaning' score: 28%

'High satisfaction' score: 53%

Median wage: $37,960

Projected employment change by 2026: -6.7%

Data suggests there’s something deeply unsatisfying about setting a precious stone in a ring or creating a piece of jewelry, only to have to give it away. Plus, the job market is sluggish: The government projects a 7% decline in these positions by 2026.

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Jean-Pol GRANDMONT // Wikimedia Commons

#16. Pourers and casters, metal

Job Misery Index: 90.4

'High meaning' score: 27%

'High satisfaction' score: 64%

Median wage: $38,210

Projected employment change by 2026: -23.4%

With average wages of just $14.57 per hour, many metal pourers and casters move on after the first decade. Projections suggest that statistic will continue to rise. Holdouts should consider a move to Arkansas, where salaries for this position rank highest.

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David Peters // Wikimedia Commons

#15. Printing workers

Job Misery Index: 90.9

'High meaning' score: 27%

'High satisfaction' score: 55%

Median wage: $35,560

Projected employment change by 2026: -11.9%

Printing workers are at the last stage of the publishing process: they arrange pages, operate printing and binding equipment, and do other tasks required to produce final, printed books and other materials. This work can be tedious and unsatisfying, and job opportunities are in decline as more publishing takes place online. Plus, PayScale estimates that more than two-fifths of workers in this industry also don’t receive benefits.

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Wolfmann // Wikimedia Commons

#14. Cashiers

Job Misery Index: 91.1

'High meaning' score: 33%

'High satisfaction' score: 47%

Median wage: $21,050

Projected employment change by 2026: -0.8%

The monotony of standing all shift can certainly take a toll on workers. But cashiers actually face far worse problems on the job: They’re often victims of robbery and homicide.

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Staff Sgt. Cashmere Jefferson // Wikimedia Commons

#13. Cooks, short order

Job Misery Index: 91.8

'High meaning' score: 36%

'High satisfaction' score: 45%

Median wage: $22,740

Projected employment change by 2026: -3.3%

A short-order cook is considered an undesirable job by many. That’s due in part to the gig’s long nights, lackluster growth prospects, and mediocre pay. Mix in little opportunity for advancement and it’s no wonder being a short-order cook ranks as one of the worst jobs in America.

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Jeffrey Beall // Flickr

#12. Dining room and cafeteria attendants and bartender helpers

Job Misery Index: 92

'High meaning' score: 33%

'High satisfaction' score: 39%

Median wage: $21,160

Projected employment change by 2026: +7.1%

Dining room workers are essential to the hospitality industry. These folks clean tables, remove dirty dishes, and serve water, coffee, or other items. Workers who find these jobs in the grantmaking and giving services sector stand to make more than the median; one annual salary estimate stands at nearly $38,000.

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Rusty Clark ~ 100K Photos // Flickr

#11. Counter and rental clerks

Job Misery Index: 92.2

'High meaning' score: 26%

'High satisfaction' score: 43%

Median wage: $25,820

Projected employment change by 2026: +5.5%

Job numbers for counter and rental clerks are expected to rise in the next decade. Still, most people working these jobs move on to other positions after a decade in the field. That may be due to fatigue from dealing so often with angry, demanding customers.

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Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Christopher K. Hwang // US Navy

#10. Dishwashers

Job Misery Index: 93.8

'High meaning' score: 29%

'High satisfaction' score: 40%

Median wage: $21,500

Projected employment change by 2026: +4.3%

Dishwashers are essential to any smooth-running restaurant. Yet dishwashers are also among the most underappreciated and underpaid workers in a food establishment. They work long hours, don’t get tipped for the dirty jobs they do, and work with little to no recognition.

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Provincial Archives of Alberta // Wikimedia Commons

#9. Foundry mold and coremakers

Job Misery Index: 93.8

'High meaning' score: 41%

'High satisfaction' score: 49%

Median wage: $35,140

Projected employment change by 2026: -24%

Foundry mold and coremakers create forms used to make metal castings. Unfortunately, this job has terrible odds of employment growth as U.S. manufacturers move operations out of the country, where workers can be paid less money.

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Daniel Lee // Flickr

#8. Cooks, fast food

Job Misery Index: 93.9

'High meaning' score: 28%

'High satisfaction' score: 48%

Median wage: $21,040

Projected employment change by 2026: -5.2%

There are plenty of reasons to not want to work in the fast food industry, least of all the way you smell at the end of a shift. Most fast food places also don’t give their employees, including cooks, time off for the holidays, nor do they receive benefits.

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BuzzFarmers // Flickr

#7. Laundry and dry-cleaning workers

Job Misery Index: 93.9

'High meaning' score: 35%

'High satisfaction' score: 39%

Median wage: $22,370

Projected employment change by 2026: -0.2%

Working in laundry and dry cleaning comes with its own set of hazards. Studies suggest a strong correlation between exposure to dry cleaning chemicals and cancer. This data, backed up by the Environmental Protection Agency and International Agency for Research on Cancer, doesn’t bode well for those working in these facilities. One chemical, called perc, is still widely used, despite a warning from the EPA.

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Penka Todorova Vitkova // Shutterstock

#6. Photographic process workers and processing machine operators

Job Misery Index: 94

'High meaning' score: 42%

'High satisfaction' score: 46%

Median wage: $27,480

Projected employment change by 2026: -18.1%

This position has terrible growth prospects as the field of digital photography continues to expand. Those who can’t bear to leave the industry entirely are likely to find more promising prospects by becoming photographers, instead.

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kelly // Flickr

#5. Fabric and apparel patternmakers

Job Misery Index: 94.6

'High meaning' score: 25%

'High satisfaction' score: 50%

Median wage: $40,460

Projected employment change by 2026: -16.1%

Computer modeling has dealt a debilitating blow to the pattern-making industry. Jobs are drastically on the decline. Some pattern-makers, however, make twice the median wage. It all depends on, among other things, the location where they work.

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US Air Force

#4. Prepress technicians and workers

Job Misery Index: 95.7

'High meaning' score: 25%

'High satisfaction' score: 51%

Median wage: $39,910

Projected employment change by 2026: -19.9%

Widespread computer use in desktop publishing for tasks such as page layout has stunted job growth prospects for prepress technicians and workers. Industry workers might have better luck by becoming engravers or designers.

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Jamain // Wikimedia Commons

#3. Crushing, grinding, and polishing machine setters, operators, and tenders

Job Misery Index: 96

'High meaning' score: 26%

'High satisfaction' score: 41%

Median wage: $35,380

Projected employment change by 2026: -6.7%

This position ranks low for meaning, satisfaction, and growth prospects. There’s also not much opportunity to find U.S. jobs in this sector. Even in populous states like California and Texas have employment figures below 3,200.

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Zephyris // Wikimedia Commons

#2. Lathe and turning machine tool setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic

Job Misery Index: 97

'High meaning' score: 32%

'High satisfaction' score: 35%

Median wage: $38,580

Projected employment change by 2026: -8.4%

Job prospects for this manufacturing job are expected to decline in coming years as more companies outsource manufacturing jobs overseas. Robots have also replaced the human touch in many positions in this sector.

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Alex // Flickr

#1. Parking lot attendants

Job Misery Index: 100

'High meaning' score: 5%

'High satisfaction' score: 41%

Median wage: $22,810

Projected employment change by 2026: +6.2%

Despite the fact that parking lot attendants are still in demand and will be for the foreseeable future, this position ranks highest on the list of worst jobs. Parking attendants must deal with a lot of boredom, and scant sense of meaning. The position can also take a real toll on workers’ bodies that are stuck outside in terrible weather.

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