The nationwide median household income was $53,891 as of June, according to Sentier Research, down nearly 5% from where it was at start of the recession. And while household incomes have slowly risen over the past few years, few families, and even fewer individuals, earn the coveted six-figure salary.
Of the hundreds of careers the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) employment statistics program studied, only 42 had median wages above $100,000. Many of the professions employed a small number of people, and only 19 of the 42 employed more than 50,000 people. Notably, anesthesiologists, surgeons, and orthodontists had some of the highest median wages, yet employed less than 100,000 people combined. Based on estimated employment figures and wages published by the BLS for 2013, 24/7 Wall St.identified America's most popular six-figure jobs.
Many of the most-popular high-paying jobs are managerial positions. These include financial, sales, computer and information systems, and architectural and engineering managers. Chief executives, who serve as the highest level of management in an organization, are also among the most popular six-figure jobs. Managers often have years of experience in their field and can oversee other employees — from a small specialized team to an entire organization. In turn, managers are well compensated for this responsibility. As of last year, more than 6.5 million Americans worked in a managerial role, earning a median annual salary of over $95,000.
Many of these high-paying managers have work experience in industries that generally pay well many, Martin Kohli, chief regional economist for the BLS, told 24/7 Wall St. For instance, financial managers typically have work experience in the well-paying financial sector. Similarly, computer and information systems managers often take on higher-paying managerial roles after working well-paid positions in information technology.
Workers in some of these six-figure occupations are paid well because of the level of education, training, and certification required to practice in their field. Lawyers, for example, typically spend three years in law school and must pass their state's bar exam in order to practice law. Family and general practitioners require a postgraduate medical degree that takes several years to complete. Following graduation, family and general practitioners typically spend several years in a residency program, and they must be licensed in order to practice medicine.
While these high-paying jobs may be popular, they might not be growing like other careers. The estimated growth rate of five of the 10 jobs on our list for the decade ending in 2022 is lower than the anticipated growth rate for all occupations. Other careers on the list are projected to remain popular. The BLS estimates a greater than 20% employment growth between 2012 and 2022 for software system developers, and higher than average in the employment of pharmacists for the coming decade.
To determine America's top-paying six-figure jobs, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program for 2013. To qualify, jobs had to have more than 100,000 workers and a median annual wage of at least $100,000. OES figures are estimates and subject to sampling error. OES employment figures do not include self-employed workers.. Data were collected by the program over several years.
We also reviewed data from the bureau's Employment projections program, such as the percentage of workers that were self-employed as of 2012, and the projected job growth in each occupation between 2012 and 2022. Further information on each occupation came from the BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook. Occupations that tracked only residual employment, such as "Managers, All Other," were excluded from our consideration.
These are America's most popular six-figure jobs:
5. Computer and Information Systems Manager
> Employment: 319,080
> Median wage: $123,950
> Projected change 2012 – 2022: 15.3%
Computer and information systems managers direct the information technology needs for their organizations by recommending software and hardware purchases, ensuring network security, and hiring staffers to troubleshoot problems that arise, among other responsibilities. Such managers frequently have an undergraduate degree in computer science or information science, while many have a graduate degree such as an MBA. It is just one of five occupations with a median pay of more than $100,000 that also employed over 300,000 people as of 2013.
4. Sales Managers
> Employment: 352,220
> Median wage: $108,540
> Projected change 2012 – 2022: 8.3%
Sales managers are typically college graduates with past experience working in sales. Sales managers often dictate sales strategies and determine representatives' budgets, sales targets, and territory covered. They are also often responsible for assessing the performance of sales representatives. The median pay of a sales manager was $108,540 in 2013, although specific compensation for a sales manager depends on the company's commission policies and bonus structure. Because of these factors, some sales managers can earn far more than the median while some earn far less. In fact, the lowest paid 10% of sales managers earned no more than $53,770 as of 2013.
3. Software Developers, Systems Software
> Employment: 373,510
> Median wage: $101,410
> Projected change 2012 – 2022: 20.4%
Systems software developers create operating systems and interfaces that are an integral part of almost all aspects of people's lives. According to the BLS, long hours are common for software developers, who work in collaboration with a team. In 2013, the median annual wage for systems software developers was $101,410. That same year, the BLS estimated that 373,510 people worked as systems software developers. Already the third most popular six-figure job, the occupation may become even more popular. The BLS estimates the number of systems software developers will grow by more than 20% between 2012 and 2022.
2. Financial Managers
> Employment: 499,320
> Median wage: $112,700
> Projected change 2012 – 2022: 8.9%
Financial managers prepare financial statements and forecasts, manage a company's cash balance and risk positions, and assess opportunities for business expansion as well as mergers and acquisitions. Financial managers can work either for a corporation or for a financial institution such as a bank or insurance company. Years of work experience in financial analysis or accounting is typically required to become a financial manager, and many have a graduate degree. There were slightly less than 500,000 financial managers in the U.S. as of 2013.
> Employment: 592,670
> Median wage: $114,300
> Projected change 2012 – 2022: 9.8%
There are nearly 600,000 lawyers working in the public and private sectors around America, making it the most popular six-figure job. Lawyers are required to obtain a high level of education and certifications. In addition to completing a law degree, lawyers, must also pass a state's written bar examination and work as associates while gaining experience. After several years, lawyers may gain partnership at a firm or move to a large corporation. Additionally, some lawyers start their own practice. For instance, the BLS estimates that 21.8% of lawyers were self employed as of 2012. The annual median wage for lawyers was nearly $115,000 in 2013. However, the highest paid lawyers can earn far more.
24/7 Wall St. is a USA TODAY content partner offering financial news and commentary. Its content is produced independently of USA TODAY.