From software geeks to lumberjacks: The top 10 best and worst jobs in the U.S.

Flickr photo via SunnySideUp

The lumber industry and the software industry each play a critical role in the Pacific Northwest, anchored by giant corporations such as Weyerhaeuser and Microsoft. But when it comes to the best and worst professions in the country, these two core industries couldn’t be further apart.

According to a study by, software engineers rank as having the best jobs with plenty of perks, low stress and a median income of $88,142.  Not bad, especially for folks like 31-year-old Brandon Hilkert. The Wall Street Journal highlighted the software developer, who lives in West Chester Pennsylvania and works for Seattle social networking upstart Meeteor, as part of its feature story on the jobs report.

“The world is going digital, and software engineers who can help with that transformation are reaping the benefits. Their pay is great, hiring demand for their skills is through the roof, and working conditions have never been better,” according to the CareerCast report.

At the other end of the spectrum is the lumberjack, an age-old profession of the Northwest which includes plenty of risks, high unemployment and low pay with a median salary of just $32,114.

“Unemployment for Lumberjacks is very high, and the demand for their services is expected to continue to fall through 2016. And while working outside all day may seem like a great job perk, being a lumberjack not only is considered the worst job, but also one of the world’s most dangerous,” according to the report.

So, if you were just stating out, what would you do: Pick up a computer or a chainsaw?

Here’s one other thing: You might not want to pick up a pen. My old profession, newspaper reporter, also claimed one of the worst job spots. Others receiving that dubious honor included soldier, waiter, dishwasher and butcher.

“As the digital world continues to take over and provide on-demand information, the need for print newspapers and daily newscasts is diminishing. To be sure, both jobs once seemed glamorous, but on-the-job stress, declining job opportunities and income levels are what landed them on our Worst Jobs list,” the report says.

Here’s a look at the top 5 jobs. (Click on chart for the full list).

  • Bob Silver

    JC, aren’t you glad you picked journalism as a career. And to think, your prospects would be better if you had chosen to be come a janitor, garbage collector or a military general! 

    • johnhcook

      My mom, also a former newspaper reporter, would be so proud. Glad to know we are near the bottom of the barrel, but I am happy with life in “new media.”

  • Christopher Budd

    Back in 2007 when I was with the Microsoft Security Response Center, I and a colleague gave an interview to Popular Science and they declared us to have the 6th worst job in science:

    So, the software biz may not be quite so bright and sparkling.

    Their stress gauge is really off. It shouldn’t be so, but it’s a very stressful industry. As the title goes, it’s no country for old men.

  • pearlywhite

    Whoever created this list does not understand that Dental Hygiene is a terrible job prospect nowadays! I am a Dental Hygienist, and in every state, dentists are cutting full-time hygienist jobs, in favor of having 2 or 3 part timers. Thus, as part-timers, there are NO Benefits, no paid vacation, no 401K–NOTHING!  Additionally, with every community college in a 20 mile radius each producing a crop of 30 new hygienists every spring, the market is totally flooded. The latest professional journal that came to my office last month had an article about dental hygiene is each state–and ALL of the respondents from each state mentioned the above with dismay.  If you want to try hygiene, go for it, but get ready for only part-time work, no paid vacation or sick leave, no 401K, no insurance or benefits, and no raises (because they can hire a new graduate for much less money).  Dental hygiene WAS good about 15-20 years ago, but NOT now.

  • dan evans

    I spent my summers in college working in logging camps in SE Alaska and in the Cascades.  Was almost killed twice, had a hand in shipping 400 year old spruce trees to the mill, met some VERY interesting career loggers and worked my ass off all the time thinking “I am doing this to pay for college so I don’t have to do this forever…”  Being a logger wasn’t so bad as I always thought there was something worse.  Guess I was wrong….