10 Jobs With Huge Pay Disparities Across the Country
Most people assume that if you earn a degree, it'll improve your chances of getting a high-paying job. However, not all states pay the same. And when you factor in cost of living, it becomes clear that some places may be better for certain jobs than others. To pinpoint where the largest pay disparities exist, we took average salary data from dozens of occupations in the Bureau of Labor Statistics and adjusted them for the cost of living in each state. We specifically focused on jobs that require an associate degree or less.
When the numbers were crunched, the following 10 occupations rose to the top as having some of the biggest pay gaps between states. In many cases, a low cost of living boosts the buying power of worker incomes. Here are all 10 occupations, including the highest and lowest paying states, with average salary figures from 2015, adjusted with the cost of living index.
Air Traffic Controllers
- Highest paying state: Georgia ($147,797)
- Lowest paying state: Hawaii ($64,176)
When salaries are adjusted to reflect the cost of living, air traffic controllers in Georgia make more than twice as much as those in Hawaii, on average. The high cost of living in Hawaii may have a lot to do with this huge difference in pay. Additionally, it's important to note that Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Georgia is one of the busiest airfields in the world. also plays a role in the state paying air traffic controllers a premium paycheck.
Air traffic controllers typically need a combination of education and experience totaling three years. They must also complete medical and background checks as well as go through an FAA training and assessment before they are ready to direct planes at the nation's airports.
Funeral Service Managers
- Highest paying state: Kansas ($117,866)
- Lowest paying state: California ($45,726)
Funeral service managers benefit from the low cost-of-living in Kansas, where they earn an adjusted income that is more than $70,000 more what their counterparts in California bring home. All the way back in 2001, professionals in the field were lamenting a shortage of funeral service workers in Kansas. At that time, only two mortuary science programs were available in the four-state region around Kansas City. While schools have worked to attract more students to the field, a lack of qualified managers may be driving up wages.
Typically, funeral service managers must have at least an associate degree in funeral science or mortuary science and be licensed by their state. Managers may wear many hats and be responsible for counseling loved ones, preparing bodies and filing appropriate paperwork.
Aerospace Engineering and Operations Technicians
- Highest paying state: Mississippi ($93,689)
- Lowest paying state: New Jersey ($47,874)
Aerospace engineering and operations technicians may find better opportunities in Midwestern and Southern states, as the cost of living is much less and there may still be large employers there. Mississippi is teeming with potential employers, including GE Aviation and Lockheed Martin, and that's one factor that may be driving up wages. What's more, the Mississippi Development Authority says every commercial plane in the world has at least one part made in the state, meaning qualified technicians are likely in high demand and earn competitive salaries.
Aerospace engineering and operations technicians work with engineers to build and test aircraft systems. These professionals usually have an associate degree in engineering technology although some may begin work after earning a diploma or certificate from a vocational or technical school.
- Highest paying state: Idaho ($98,356)
- Lowest paying state: District of Columbia ($44,541)
Radiation therapists are in-demand nationwide, along with most jobs in the health care industry, especially those with specialized skills. The cost of living in Idaho compared to the District of Columbia may help explain the $44,500 difference in the adjusted average salaries of workers in each area.
These professionals often work in hospitals or cancer centers where they administer radiation treatments. Therapists must have at least an associate degree in radiation therapy, and some states require people pass a national certification exam and become licensed prior to starting a job.
- Highest paying state: Georgia ($85,245)
- Lowest paying state: West Virginia ($43,462)
Web developers may consider Georgia as a good place to be for good incomes and excellent buying power. The cost-of-living adjusted average pay for developers in the Peach State is the highest in the nation, shadowing the popular tech-hubs like California, Washington and Texas, whose cost of living may negatively affect the salaries there. Atlanta is home to a number of web design firms which may help explain the high salaries for developers in Georgia.
Those who want to pursue a career as a web developer -- whether in Georgia or elsewhere -- typically need an associate degree in web design or a related field. Professionals in this field may write code, design websites and test features among other things.
- Highest paying state: North Dakota ($71,146)
- Lowest paying state: Oregon ($31,622)
When cost of living is taken into account, chemical technicians in North Dakota are the highest paid in the nation, earning nearly $40,000 more than those based in Oregon.
North Dakota's manufacturing sector, along with a low cost-of-living, likely contributes to the state topping the list when it comes to chemical technician salaries. Professionals working in the field may have an associate degree in applied science and spend their days setting up laboratory equipment, creating chemical processes and monitoring experiments.
Camera and Photographic Equipment Repairers
- Highest paying state: Wisconsin ($64,067)
- Lowest paying state: New York ($25,229)
Camera repair specialists should head to the Midwest is they want to make the most money. When adjusted for the cost of living, average annual salaries in Wisconsin are nearly $39,000 more than those found in New York. One factor contributing to the low wages in New York may be the number of photography repair shops found in its cities. Increased competition may drive down wages while fewer shops in Wisconsin may mean workers can charge more for their services.
Camera and photographic equipment repairers may benefit from earning an associate degree or other postsecondary training from a vocational or technical school. Many of these workers may also learn important skills from training on the job.
Diagnostic Medical Sonographers
- Highest paying state: Arizona ($81,468)
- Lowest paying state: Hawaii ($45,172)
As home to 110 hospitals, including four nationally ranked institutions, it's not surprising diagnostic medical sonographers make good incomes in Arizona. Mayo Clinic, Banner University Medical Center and St. Joseph Hospital and Medical Center are among the institutions employing sonographers who perform ultrasounds and similar screenings. Hawaii also has quality hospitals and medical centers, but a higher cost of living and a smaller population may mean diagnostic medical sonographers are paid less.
Diagnostic medical sonographers, also known as X-ray technicians, often have an associate degree in sonography although some may have a bachelor's degree or a postsecondary certificate instead.
- Highest paying state: Washington ($77,311)
- Lowest paying state: California ($41,266)
The West Coast is home to both the highest and lowest paid electro-mechanical technicians in the nation. When incomes are adjusted for the cost of living, Washington technicians earn over 50 percent more than those in California, on average. Electro-mechanical technicians combine knowledge of mechanics with that of electrical systems and play a crucial role in the creation of electronic devices. They may find plenty of job opportunities in the Seattle market where companies like Amazon, Lockheed Martin and Honeywell have operations.
Community colleges and technical schools are among the institutions offering associate degrees for future electro-mechanical technicians.
Industrial Engineering Technicians
- Highest paying state: Washington ($74,769)
- Lowest paying state: New York ($40,627)
Likely because of its strong manufacturing and technology sector, Washington is also a great place to be in terms of income for industrial engineering technicians. Professionals in the state earn more than those in New York and other areas with a much higher cost of living.
Industrial engineering technicians work alongside industrial engineers to improve production design and processes. They may have an associate degree in applied science, industrial technology or industrial engineering.
- Chicago O'Hare retakes 'world's busiest' title…sort of, Ben Mutzabaugh, USA TODAY, September 1, 2015, http://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/flights/todayinthesky/2015/01/21/chicago-ohare-retakes-worlds-busiest-title -- sort-/22125499/
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition
- As demand for funeral service increases, salaries will improve, Kansas City Business Journal, January 14, 2001, http://www.bizjournals.com/kansascity/stories/2001/01/15/focus3.html
- Aerospace, Mississippi Development Authority, https://www.mississippi.org/home-page/our-advantages/target-industries-overview/aerospace/
- Best Hospitals in Arizona, U.S. News & World Report, http://health.usnews.com/best-hospitals/area/az