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The 50 most meaningful jobs in America

  • The 50 most meaningful jobs in America

    Every job applicant is trying to find the sweet spot between two numbers: the salary they would need to take on a job they really didn’t like, and the lowest salary they could live on in order to take a job they truly loved. In a perfect world, one’s passion for a job would be matched by the salary they receive. But unfortunately, that’s not always how the job market works—ask anyone who has ever settled for a small paycheck in order to follow his or her dream.

    Recently, anthropologist David Graeber made headlines with a book on the “useless jobs that no one wants to talk about” (though the actual title was slightly more profane). In countries around the world, 30 to 40% of adults reported wondering why their jobs even existed, even though most are well-compensated for their time. Some blame the rise of technology and automation making it harder to find jobs that are well-paying, productive and fulfilling (to say nothing of the jobs that are none of the above). Graeber argues in his book and elsewhere that people would be a lot happier if these jobs didn’t exist and if productive jobs (for example, teaching) were better paid.

    This doesn’t mean every well-paying job is useless, or that every low-paying job is especially meaningful. What kind of jobs are the lucky few who find the sweet spot between them doing? Stacker considered two data metrics compiled by PayScale to try to answer this question. PayScale asked more than 2 million workers if their job makes the world a better place, a metric that the company calls “job meaning.” Stacker compared this data to the national median salary to find the 50 most meaningful jobs in the country.

    Read on to discover which jobs were rated the most meaningful and to decide if it might be time to consider a career change.

    You may also like: 30 jobs that are not 9-5

  • #50. Middle School Teachers, Except Special and Vocational Education

    Median pay: $44,100

    High meaning: 84%

    High satisfaction: 72%

    Jobs in the education field appear several times on this list, starting with middle school teachers, who find playing a role in the development of young minds to be a particularly meaningful experience.  

  • #49. Secondary School Teachers, Except Special and Vocational Education

    Median pay: $47,100

    High meaning: 84%

    High satisfaction: 76%

    Though high school teachers found their jobs just as meaningful as middle school teachers did, they had a higher rate of satisfaction—perhaps because their salaries were also slightly higher.

  • #48. Medical and Health Services Managers

    Median pay: $70,800

    High meaning: 84%

    High satisfaction: 81%

    The medical field also appears repeatedly on this list, indicating that medical professionals find a high level of meaning in their jobs overall. Medical and health services managers (also known as healthcare administrators or executives) take a lot of satisfaction from their jobs, possibly because they know they make a direct impact on others’ health.

  • #47. Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselors

    Median pay: $36,100

    High meaning: 85%

    High satisfaction: 74%

    Though substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors typically make less each year than people in some other professions on this list, they still find their work especially meaningful. Like health services managers, these counselors likely find helping people better their health to be very impactful.

  • #46. Recreation Workers

    Median pay: $32,800

    High meaning: 85%

    High satisfaction: 76%

    Recreation workers design and lead activities at summer camps, parks, after-school programs and other social settings. While this job title does not tend to lead to a very high salary, the ability to help people become more active and social might be what led to a higher degree of satisfaction.

  • #45. Child, Family, and School Social Workers

    Median pay: $33,700

    High meaning: 85%

    High satisfaction: 65%

    Social workers found a very high degree of meaning in their work—85 percent. However, job satisfaction was a bit lower than other professions in this section of the list. It’s possible that the dramatic nature of this work could have something to do with those results: although social workers can have an incredibly positive impact on families, they also often witness tragic circumstances.

  • #44. First-Line Supervisors/Managers of Fire Fighting and Prevention Workers

    Median pay: $65,500

    High meaning: 85%

    High satisfaction: 82%

    First-line supervisors of fire fighting and prevention workers have an extremely important job: coordinating the activities of firefighters and other emergency personnel. The significance of their day-to-day duties might have driven these workers to report finding their jobs so meaningful.

  • #43. Police, Fire, and Ambulance Dispatchers

    Median pay: $37,100

    High meaning: 85%

    High satisfaction: 74%

    Like first-line supervisors, emergency dispatchers who answer emergency calls and send first responders out to emergencies found their jobs extremely meaningful—even though they are paid a much lower salary than the former.

  • #42. Fitness Trainers and Aerobics Instructors

    Median pay: $39,800

    High meaning: 85%

    High satisfaction: 71%

    Like other professionals in the health and fitness industries, fitness trainers and aerobics instructors find lots of meaning in their work. People who seek out these careers are often very dedicated to their own health and likely enjoy helping others become healthier.

  • #41. Veterinarians

    Median pay: $70,600

    High meaning: 85%

    High satisfaction: 70%

    Pursuing a career in veterinary medicine can feel very meaningful for any animal lover, as it gives them the priceless opportunity to heal cats, dogs and other animals.

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