Few decisions will have as lasting an impact on your life as your choice of profession. You can pour your life into a career, only to see it taken away as technology and business attitudes render your specialty obsolete. On the other hand, if you discover that you happen to be great at a job that looks to be in high demand for decades to come, you can practically write your own meal ticket.
CareerCast.com, a targeted career site, recently put together its list of the best and worst jobs in America, which it ranks using a proprietary formula based on the general categories inherent to every job: environment, income, outlook, and stress level. The worst jobs in America combine an unpleasant physical and mental environment with high stress, low (or negative) growth, and weak earning potential to create a job that leaves you overworked, underpaid, and just plain burned out. The five jobs you're about to see offer the worst overall combinations of these four general factors, which makes them the worst jobs in America (ranked from fifth-worst to the very worst), according to CareerCast.
5: Oil rig worker
- Median pay: $37,640 per year
- Entry-level education: Less than high school
- Number of jobs: 134,800
- Expected new jobs by 2020: 11,200 (8% growth)
Forget about what you hear of the Bakken boom or the huge paydays offered to men (nearly all of the oil industry's front-line work is done by men) willing to leave family and friends behind to work on the oily frontier. This is hard, tiring, dangerous work. Despite the perception of high pay, many rig employees don't actually make all that much. The risk of death, though remote, is very real -- just think back to the 11 dead men who went down with the Deepwater Horizon. While the payoff can be great in the near term, there isn't often a lot of long-term job security working on rigs. If you don't get burned out from the grinding schedule and the job's physicality, you might find yourself unemployed when the well's production drops to a trickle.
- Median pay: $17.44 per hour (regular schedules are nearly impossible to find)
- Entry-level education: Some college, no degree
- Number of jobs: 66,500
- Expected new jobs by 2020: 2,600 (4% growth)
If you can make it to the top of the acting profession, you can command fantastic paydays and gain worldwide renown. However, very few actors will ever make it that far, and competition is absolutely brutal in this entertainment profession that has long drawn starry-eyed dreamers from around the world. The Bureau of Labor Statistics may not count the number of people who work as actors on a part-time basis, as the Screen Actors Guild has more than 160,000 members. A number of actors wind up working other low-paying, stressful jobs to supplement their income. The intense competition, low pay, and persistent uncertainty over the next job can create a great deal of stress. Try waiting patiently for a callback from that audition where you poured out your soul. It's not easy!
3: Enlisted military personnel
- Median pay: $42,000 per year (classification E-7 with eight-plus years of experience)
- Entry-level education: High school diploma
- Number of jobs: 1,211,575
- Expected new jobs by 2020: Varies by branch and occupation
The United States' armed forces enjoy wide public acclaim but are treated rather poorly at work. Most enlisted personnel don't stay for more than four years, which makes a $42,000 annual payday (which comes with bonuses like housing and food allowances as well as medical care) a pipe dream for many. Enlisted life is the most stressful of any job in the country, and few enlisted specialties offer the scheduling stability of a traditional 9-to-5. Barring some huge new war -- which can never be ruled out -- the size of the military is expected to decline over the coming years as long-standing war-on-terror operations draw down, leading to fewer opportunities for advancement.
- Median pay: $32,870 per year
- Entry-level education: High school diploma
- Number of jobs: 53,200
- Expected new jobs by 2020: 2,300 (4% growth)
"I'm a lumberjack and I'm OK," goes the old Monty Python song -- but that might not be such an accurate assessment. Many of those 53,000 lumberjacks are not OK with their dangerous and low-paying career choices, which leave them little free time to skip and jump and press wildflowers. In fact, only fishermen have a more dangerous profession -- lumberjacks and other logging workers suffer approximately 54 deaths per year . There aren't a lot of opportunities for professional growth, either. Have you ever heard of an ex-lumberjack CEO or executive vice president? I'm sure such individuals exist, but they must be extremely rare.
1: Newspaper reporter
- Median pay: $36,000 per year
- Entry-level education: Bachelor's degree
- Number of jobs: 58,500
- Expected new jobs by 2020: -3,200 (6% decline)
CareerCast focuses on print news, but there isn't a lot of good news for any sort of reporter in the United States. Long hours, constant deadline pressure, intense competition, and low pay add up to a lot of stress in a career that allows very few to ever make it big. Online newsrooms are quick to aggregate the content slaved over by print journalists, and the shift to the Internet has devastated print media. Over the past decade, print ad revenues have collapsed from $45 billion to $19 billion, and newsroom employment is at its lowest level since 1978. The print business is dying, and the reporters on the vanguard are among those most hurt in the carnage.
The best of the rest
CareerCast has a deep list of jobs, ranked from 1 (the best) all the way to 200 (the worst). You can see the bottom 20 here, and you can continue browsing to see where your job ranks. Are you unlucky enough to be part of these unpleasant professions? Do you disagree with CareerCast's analysis? Let the world know how you feel about these rankings by leaving a comment below.
Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.