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Average Engineering Wages in the U.S. (May 2011)

Many of the major engineering magazine websites publish annual salary survey results that have polled their readership. They always provide numbers explaining how they arrived at their charts, but in the end, those might not represent a true cross-section of salaries since they only represent people who bothered to participate. Maybe the type of person who fills out surveys tends to bias the results upward or downward. Those polls also usually include participants from other countries, with salary information being converted to U.S. dollars (although often separate charts are included showing the distribution of data by country). Still, I am never quite sure of what the numbers really mean. Since I am not sophisticated enough to collect my own statistics, instead I went to the website of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to get their latest numbers (as of May 2011) for incomes of all wage earners. Salaries used here are from the "Average Mean Wage" column in their table.

The annual EE Time Global Salary & Opinion Survey (pp. 18) usually provides a conversion factor that can be applied to determine equivalent pay in other countries. For Japan it is 0.78, The EU is 0.71, India is 0.25, and for Communist countries like China it is 0.16. But hold on, the disparity is even greater than that because the EE Times numbers do not include the value of benefits (medical, dental, retirement), but in Socialist and Communist countries it is inseparable from the base pay. The typical benefits package for a U.S. engineer is 25-33% of base pay, so the total effective compensation is greater than the $107.3k. That explains why so many (but by no means all) engineers want to work in the U.S. Personally, I'd like to live and work in Germany for a few years.

The BLS website also has a handy Inflation Calculator. I entered the engineering realm in 1989 after graduating from the University of Vermont with a BSEE degree. The 2011 average wage for an electronics engineer is $94,670, so per the calculator, the equivalent in 1989 was $52,187.84 - not too shabby, I suppose. My first job as an engineer was at the General Electric Aerospace Electronic Systems Division in Utica, NY, with a starting salary of about $32k/year. I'd tell you what I make now at RF Cafe, but it's a trade secret. If RF Cafe ever becomes a publically traded company, it'll be published in the quarterly report.

Speaking of people (you and me) who work for a living, a recent news item stated that the number of Americans on disability; i.e., not working but getting a monthly check, is now at 5.6% of the working age population. The BLS reports the official unemployment rate at 8.2% (does not include people no longer looking for work). 1.7% receive more than 50% of their income from Welfare. That means 5 people are working to support themselves and 1 other non-worker. Now, we all know those numbers are always reported optimistically, so it's worse than that. A way to look at it is that when you are standing in line at McDonalds with five people in front of you, on average one is having her meal paid for by the rest of you in line. Why mention that? Well, when you look at the salaries below, remember that a large portion of it you will never have to spend as you desire because of federal, state, and local income taxes, fuel taxes, property taxes, school taxes, retail sales taxes, utility taxes and fees, transfer taxes and usage fees (car, boat, motorcycle, house), business taxes, etc. , etc., etc. Keep that in mind the next time a politician or protestor tells you you're not paying your fair share.

But I digress. For the table below, I picked out mainly engineering and technician jobs, with a few related jobs in the sciences. Where possible, the difference in pay between engineer and technician in the same field was calculated. The typical engineering job pays about 1.5x to 2x, which might seem like a lot to a technician; however, having filled both positions during my career, I can say that after factoring in level of responsibility, unpaid overtime, sacrificed vacation days, and the expense and effort to earn the degree, the disparity does not seem at all unfair. It's no different than the difference between being a nurse or a doctor or being a dental hygienist versus being a dentist. For a reference point, the mean overall national wage is $51,350. These numbers do not include the value of benefits, bonuses, stock options, etc. Once again here is the BLS page to do your own research.

RankProfession (4-yr.+)Wage Profession (technician)WageΔ%
1Anesthesiologist $234,950    
9CEO$176,550    
12Dentist$168,000    
14Petroleum Engineer$138,980Petroleum Technician$57,840240
17Lawyer$130,490    
18Engineering Manager$129,350    
21IS, IT Manager$125,660    
24Airline Pilot$118,070    
29Physicist$112,090    
36Nuclear Engineer$105,160Nuclear Technician$67,520156
39Aerospace Engineers$103,870Aerospace Technician$62,260167
44Astronomer$101,630    
45Computer Engineer$101,360Computer Technician  
46Mathematician$101,320Mathematical Technician$50,910199
50Chemical Engineer$99,440    
56Sales Engineer$97,320    
57Engineering Teachers$97,260    
63Electronics Engineer$94,670Electronics Technician$57,240165
78Electrical Engineer$89,200Electrical Technician$57,240156
86Materials Engineer$86,790    
98Mechanical Engineer$83,550Mechanical Engineering Technician$52,810158
102Civil Engineer$82,710Civil Engineering Technician$48,480171
115Industrial Engineer$79,840Industrial Engineering Technician$51,850154
    Cell Equip. Tower Installer$44,250
 Secondary (HS) Teacher$56,760    
 Career & Technical Teachers$56,330    

Just for fun: Most Overpaid Jobs in the U.S. per Engineering.com




Posted  7/3/2012

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