20 Jobs That Pay Dirt but Are Essential to Our Society and Are Surprisingly Hard

Ever wondered why some of the toughest jobs out there seem to come with a paycheck that barely covers the bills? Welcome to the twisted reality of the hardest jobs that surprisingly pay very poorly – where the hustle is real, but the bank balance stays on a perpetual diet.

One Redditor asked, “What are the hardest jobs that surprisingly pay very poorly?”

1. Caregivers for the Disabled

Disabled Icon. Worker Injury And Disability. Hands Protecting
Image Credit: Andrey_Popov/Shutterstock.

First up, we got the caregivers for the disabled.

Someone said, “Caregivers for adults with disabilities! Physical disabilities AND mental/emotional disabilities.”

Another added, “My mom worked one of those jobs, but they were kids stuck in wheelchairs and didn’t have the capability to talk. She loved them, and everyone at school growing up knew her and knew she was a Saint. Yet she had to work 2 to 3 jobs just to keep us afloat. It never seemed fair.”

2. Emergency Medical Technicians

Black African American Paramedic Looking into Camera in an Ambulance Vehicle Going for Emergency.
Image Credit: Gorodenkoff/Shutterstock.

Next on the list are the Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs). They’re the real-life superheroes on wheels, racing to save lives when everyone else is freaking out.

One person commented, “In many (most?) US cities, EMTs are paid little more than minimum wage. They literally save lives and deal with all sorts of stuff you can’t imagine, all for $10 an hour.”

Another responded, “In most places, EMTs are working for private ambulance services. And, of course, these ambulance services pay minimum wage because they know that the EMTs will need experience before they might have a chance with a fire department.”

3. Wildland Firefighters

Portrait of young woman firefighter standing near fire truck.
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Now, let’s talk about those wildland firefighters.

Someone said, “Wildland firefighting (federal). (Not the firefighters in red fire engines, with all the bunker gear. Federal forestry technicians who battle wildfires) GS-3 entry-level grunt gets $11.83 an hour. Only gets 6 months of work. Hikes, digs, breathes smoke, always dirty, always gone. Only gets 6 months health insurance.”

Another added, “20 years ago, working fire could be a cool job. It had its downsides–cutting line has always been hard work. And living in camp can be a tough lifestyle.”

4. Paramedics

ambulance on emergency car in motion blur
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Paramedics – the heroes of the ambulance game. They’re out there dodging traffic, navigating chaos, and keeping their cool when everyone else is panicking.

One Redditor wrote, “Paramedics literally go into dirty houses and save someone’s life and take them to the hospital. Everyone expects that when they call 911 and need medical help, they will get it. EMS is grossly underpaid for what they do.”

Someone else replied, “I was working as EMT, training to be a paramedic. And part-time doing hair, charging $80 for a haircut. I decided to go back full-time to work at the salon. Pay is one thing, but Americans are too fat for me to break my back working minimum wage.”

5. Nursing Homes

Nurses assisting elderly people at retirement home
Image Credit: New Africa/Shutterstock.

One person commented, “Nursing home staff.”

Another responded, “My mom is a nursing aide, and it’s shocking how little they pay the people who do all the heavy work to care for elderly people. It’s brutal.”

Taking care of our elders deserves more than spare change, for real.

6. Custodian

Cleaning concept - hand in orange protective rubber glove washing glass window with sponge and detergent foam. Householding background, copy space.
Image Credit: Prostock-studio/Shutterstock.

Someone said, “Custodian. Cleaning up other people’s messes (literally other people’s trash).”

Another added, “And, if they quit, you’ll notice within a day or a few hours (depending on foot traffic). Take care of the people who clean your office.”

You’d think they’re making a bank to keep our spaces spotless, but nope, that’s not the case!

7. Teacher

Portrait of black teacher giving math lesson on chalkboard.
Image Credit: Rocketclips, Inc./Shutterstock.

Now, teachers – the real-life wizards are molding the future. They’re dealing with more teenage drama than a Netflix series and grading papers reading some bad handwriting!

One Redditor wrote, “I will say that teaching now, there are a number of days that I look at my 25 -35 students in front of me, and realize that if I truly was a babysitter as some in society think I am, I should be getting $10 per kid per hour…”

Someone else replied, “My mom used that argument in her teaching days when people would say she made too much money. She said she was the cheapest babysitter with three master’s degrees out there, and she was right!”

8. Social Workers

Tablet, happy and portrait of business black woman online for research, internet or website in office.
Image Credit: PeopleImages.com – Yuri A/Shutterstock.

Someone said, “Social workers. An extremely undervalued and underpaid profession.”

Another responded, “Social workers are so overworked and underpaid (while requiring a masters!) I almost feel like they’re either overwhelmingly altruistic or just plain nuts.”

They’re out there navigating the mess of people’s lives, trying to make the world a better place, one case at a time.

9. Suicide Prevention Hotline

sad frustrated girl sitting in front of laptop
Image Credit: PeopleImages.com via DepositPhotos.com.

Suicide prevention hotline workers – talk about having nerves of steel.

One person commented, “Ooh. I work in crisis care at a Suicide Prevention Hotline…. and think the work should pay more.”

Another added, “Totally. I actually started as an unpaid volunteer, but the demand grew so much that they needed people to consistently work more hours every week. it was just unrealistic to expect someone to volunteer for like 20+ hours a week, especially with the increased training too.”

10. Veterinary Technician

Two veterinary doctors with dog during the examination in veterinary clinic.
Image Credit: ZoranOrcik/Shutterstock.

One Redditor wrote, “Veterinary technician. Schooling is required; you have to pass national boards, pay to register and do continuing education every 2 years to keep being able to pay for it. Have to be the anesthetist, phlebotomist, hygienist, pharmacist, place catheters, handling controlled medication.”

Someone else replied, “All for slightly more than minimum wage. Registering to be an RN is 190$ for 2 years. Registering to be an RVT for 2 years is 350$.”

Do you think vets techs will ever get a salary increase?

11. Zookeepers

Handsome man with titi monkey's group.
Image Credit: AJR_photo/Shutterstock.

Someone said, “The average zookeeper earns, but it wouldn’t surprise me in the least. People who want to care for animals or children tend to be the type that would do it, regardless. And the folks paying salaries know that.”

Another added, “Yeah, this is why I stopped using my marine biology degree and working at an aquarium. I did behavioral research on seabirds, then seabird care, then sea otter care. Minimum wage. With a bachelor’s degree and experience.”

They deserve more than minimum wage for that.

12. Librarian

Attractive young woman wearing pink pale shirt with dots and fashionable glasses holding a stack of books in the library surrounded by bookshelves with colorful books.
Image Credit: diignat/Shutterstock.

One person commented, “Librarian. The workload is so much with very little pay.”

Another responded, “Children’s librarian, same thing. Librarian pay is generally pathetic, considering for most jobs you need 4 years of college plus 2-3 years of graduate training.”

Newsflash: keeping the wisdom of the world organized deserves more than spare change.

13. Substitute Teacher

teacher sitting at desk.
Image Credit: IgorVetushko via DepositPhotos.com.

One Redditor wrote, “Substitute teaching. I subbed a little during COVID-19 when the local district was hard up for help. I have a master’s degree in engineering and years of experience tutoring, as well as a flexible schedule as a SAHM. After taxes and transportation costs, I made around $10/day.”

Another added, “Substitute teacher here, I’d love a big raise, and I’m unlikely to stay in the profession without one. That being said, give Educational Assistants (EAs) an even bigger one!!!”

Teaching is hard enough, and the substitutes deserve more than a teacher’s pet appreciation.

14. Orchard Work

A Young villager, who lives in a small village near Gharo Sindh, Pakistan, 2nd March 2015.
Image Credit: Pakistan Stock Footage/Shutterstock.

Now, orchard workers – the people behind the scenes of your apple-picking Instagram posts.

Someone said, “Picking fruits, vegetables, or anything else that’s manually picked rather than machine picked. Orchard work.”

Someone else replied, “This should be at the top. People clearly don’t understand what goes into delivering the fruits and vegetables to the produce department at their local grocery store. The worst working conditions out in the elements with little to no occupational safety and health regulations for ridiculously low wages.”

15. Cooks

smiling chef tossing up frying bell peppers with frying pan.
Image Credit: LightField Studios/Shutterstock.

One said, “Cooks. Honestly, in any kitchen job in a restaurant context, the only saving grace is the people you work with who are stuck in the same mess you are.”

Another responded, “I’m over 50 now, and the hardest, most demanding jobs I ever had were all fast food. They were also the lowest paying jobs I ever had; all were minimum wage.”

Cooking up a storm deserves more than spare change in the tip jar.

16. Architect

Architect working on drawing table in office.
Image Credit: goodluz/Shutterstock.

Architects are modern-day visionaries, creating buildings that could make you stop and stare.

One person commented, “Architect. Seems like pop culture has used Architects as a catch-all job for someone with money and a lot of free time. The truth is you get paid nothing, and you work a lot. Unless you’re Frank Gerry, or Zaha Hadid.”

Another added, “I dated a man who was an architect. I was floored when he told me how little he made. I always assumed it was one of those jobs where people made at least a livable wage. He…did not.”

17. Animal Shelter

Woman playing with her dog and toy in autumn park
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Now, let’s talk about the animal shelter warriors. They’re out there, cleaning up messes, saving cute fluffballs, and being the real MVPs for our furry friends.

One Redditor wrote, “Animal shelter/rescue work. I worked as an adoption associate and an animal care tech in a shelter, and it was the best and worst job ever. I LOVED the work I did, and it was some of the most important work I’ve done in my life, but I hated that my job existed.”

Someone else replied, “It’s hard work and takes a big emotional toll on you, and it also, unfortunately, pays pretty poorly.”

18. Retail Pharmacy Technician

African American female pharmacist using digital tablet during inventory in pharmacy, holding pill box and smiling to camera.
Image Credit: SofikoS/Shutterstock.

One person commented, “Retail pharmacy technician. Back when the minimum wage was $5.15, the pharmacist earned about $100k/year, and I earned $6/hour while working in the pharmacy.”

Another responded, “Yes! You can make more at McDonald’s than you can as a pharmacy tech, and we’re responsible for medication and vaccinations. Corporate chains are the worst, but independents only offer like 16 dollars an hour.”

Newsflash: counting pills should come with counting dollars.

19. Flight Attendants

flight attendant.
Image Credit: LightField Studios/Shutterstock.

Someone said, “Flight attendants. They will tell you that they pay $25/hr. What they don’t tell you is that you are only paid for flight hours boarding, deplaning, delays, ground stops, cleaning the plane between flights, preflight crew briefing, pre-flighting emergency equipment, checking catering supplies, etc.”

Another added, “You get paid for about 20 hours per week but are away from home 4-5 days per week if you live in your base city. If you have to commute, add half a day on each end. I loved it and would do it for that little amount, but it can be hard to keep your head above water financially. Especially if you commute.”

It’s time to upgrade that paycheck to first class, for real.

20. Document Review Attorney

Confident lawyer portrait.
Image Credit: Minerva Studio/Shutterstock.

Document review attorneys are drowning in paperwork, battling through legal jargon, and dealing with more documents than a library!

One Redditor wrote, “Document review attorney. Go to law school, get debt, pass a difficult bar exam, get $22/hr, and people think you have money because you’re an attorney.”

Another responded, “I have worked on cases where attorneys doing privilege review of millions of documents were making $22/hour with no overtime rate (many would work 60 hours per week ~$1320 per week). Private contractors with no benefits, no health insurance, etc. While trying to service six-figure law school loans. FedEx drivers make more.”

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Image Credit: MAYA LAB/Shutterstock.

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Smiling teen boy 16-18 year old wearing black knitted hat, hoodie and denim jacket outdoors at sun set on background. Looking at camera. Teenagerhood.
Image Credit: morrowlight/Shutterstock.

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Pretty female faun playing flute.
Image Credit: Demian
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Police Officer Using Two-Way Radio.
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londondeposit via DepositPhotos.com.

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