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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.

Rank Profession (4-yr.+) Wage   Profession (technician) Wage Δ%
1 Anesthesiologist $234,950        
9 CEO $176,550        
12 Dentist $168,000        
14 Petroleum Engineer $138,980 Petroleum Technician $57,840 240
17 Lawyer $130,490        
18 Engineering Manager $129,350        
21 IS, IT Manager $125,660        
24 Airline Pilot $118,070        
29 Physicist $112,090        
36 Nuclear Engineer $105,160 Nuclear Technician $67,520 156
39 Aerospace Engineers $103,870 Aerospace Technician $62,260 167
44 Astronomer $101,630        
45 Computer Engineer $101,360 Computer Technician    
46 Mathematician $101,320 Mathematical Technician $50,910 199
50 Chemical Engineer $99,440        
56 Sales Engineer $97,320        
57 Engineering Teachers $97,260        
63 Electronics Engineer $94,670 Electronics Technician $57,240 165
78 Electrical Engineer $89,200 Electrical Technician $57,240 156
86 Materials Engineer $86,790        
98 Mechanical Engineer $83,550 Mechanical Engineering Technician $52,810 158
102 Civil Engineer $82,710 Civil Engineering Technician $48,480 171
115 Industrial Engineer $79,840 Industrial Engineering Technician $51,850 154
        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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