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Registered Nurse is Largest Occupation with an Above Average Wage $69,790

The occupations with the largest employment in May 2014 were retail salespersons and cashiers, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. These two occupations combined made up nearly 6 percent of total U.S. employment, with employment levels of 4.6 million and 3.4 million, respectively. Of the 10 largest occupations, only registered nurses, with an annual mean wage of $69,790, had an average wage above the U.S. all occupations mean of $47,230. The highest paying occupations overall included several physician and dentist occupations, chief executives, nurse anesthetists, and petroleum engineers. National employment and wage information for all occupations is shown in table 1.

The data in this news release are from the Occupational Employment Statistics program, which produces employment and wage estimates for over 800 occupations for the nation, states, and metropolitan and non metropolitan areas; and by industry or ownership at the national level. This release contains data on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) occupations.


The 10 largest occupations accounted for 21 percent of total employment in May 2014. In addition to retail salespersons and cashiers, the largest occupations included combined food preparation and serving workers, including fast food; general office clerks; registered nurses; customer service representatives; and waiters and waitresses.

Most of the largest occupations were relatively low paying. Excluding registered nurses, annual mean wages for the rest of the 10 largest occupations ranged from $19,110 for combined food preparation and serving workers to $34,500 for secretaries and administrative assistants, except legal, medical, and executive. Combined food preparation and serving workers also was one of the lowest paying occupations overall, along with fast food cooks ($19,030), shampooers ($19,480), and dishwashers ($19,540).

There were over 8.3 million STEM jobs in May 2014, representing about 6.2 percent of total U.S. employment. Seven of the 10 largest STEM occupations were related to computers. These occupations included applications softwNinety-three of the 100 STEM occupations had mean wages significantly above the all-occupations average. The highest paying STEM occupations included petroleum engineers, with an annual mean wage of $147,520; physicists ($117,300); and the three STEM-related management occupations. The lowest paying STEM occupations included agricultural and food science technicians ($37,330) and forest and conservation technicians ($37,990).


  • Office and administrative support was the largest occupational group, making up  about 16 percent of total U.S. employment. The next largest groups were sales and related occupations and food preparation and serving related occupations, which made up about 11 percent and 9 percent of U.S. employment, respectively. The smallest occupational groups included farming, fishing, and forestry occupations; legal occupations; and life, physical, and social science occupations, each making up less than 1 percent of total employment.
  • The highest paying occupational groups were management, legal, and computer and mathematical occupations. The lowest paying occupational groups included food preparation and serving related; personal care and service; and farming, fishing, and forestry occupations, each with an annual mean wage of about $25,000 or less.


  • Overall, the private sector accounted for about 84 percent of employment, but made up a higher share of employment in some occupations. Occupations found only in the private sector included flight attendants, oil and gas roustabouts, funeral attendants, and a number of production occupations, such as semiconductor processors and tire builders.
  • Eight of the 10 largest occupations in the private sector were the same as those in the economy as a whole. Stock clerks and order fillers and general and operations managers rounded out the largest private sector occupations.
  • Occupations found only in the public sector included tax examiners and collectors, and revenue agents; judges, magistrate judges, and magistrates; and fish and game wardens. Although found in both the public and private sectors, conservation scientists, emergency management directors, zoologists and wildlife biologists, and many types of post secondary teachers also had above-average shares of their employment in the public sector.
  • Five of the 10 largest occupations in the public sector were related to education, including elementary school teachers, except special education, with public sector employment of over 1.2 million; teacher assistants (933,500); and secondary school teachers, except special and career/technical education (845,480). These occupations were found primarily in local government.
  • The largest occupations in state government were correctional officers and jailers; general office clerks; and secretaries and administrative assistants, except legal, medical, and executive. Registered nurses, management analysts, and compliance officers were among the largest occupations in federal government.


  • Health care and social assistance and retail trade were the industry sectors with the largest employment. Over half of May 2014 employment in the health care and social assistance sector was in healthcare related occupations. Registered nurses, with sector employment of nearly 2.4 million; nursing assistants (1.3 million); and personal care aides (1.2 million) were the largest occupations in this sector. More than 60 percent of retail trade employment was in only 4 occupations: retail salespersons, cashiers, stock clerks and order fillers, and first-line supervisors of retail sales workers.
  • Some occupations were highly concentrated in specific industries, while other occupations were more widely distributed across industries. For example, about 81 percent of biochemists and biophysicists were found in only three industries: scientific research and development services; pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing; and colleges, universities, and professional schools. On the other hand, general office clerks were employed in over 280 industries, with no single industry accounting for more than about 6 percent of jobs in this occupation.
  • Industries with the highest all-occupations mean wages included software publishers, computer and peripheral equipment manufacturing, and several financial services industries. These industries tended to have high employment concentrations of occupations with high wages. For example, the largest occupations in the security and commodity contracts intermediation and brokerage industry included securities, commodities, and financial services sales agents, with an annual mean wage of $136,920; personal financial advisors ($119,180); and financial analysts ($110,510). By comparison, in restaurants and other eating places, the industry with the lowest overall average wage, 4 of the 5 largest occupations had annual mean wages below $25,000.
  • Wages for individual occupations could also differ greatly across industries. For example, wages for computer systems analysts varied by industry from $58,940 in motor vehicle body and trailer manufacturing to $118,770 in support activities for mining. Wages for meeting, convention, and event planners ranged from $26,550 in book stores and news dealers to $83,560 in aerospace product and parts manufacturing.

State and Local Area

  • States and metropolitan areas with large total employment also tended to have the largest employment of many individual occupations. However, employment concentrations for a given occupation often varied by geographic area. For example, as a percentage of total state employment, Massachusetts and Virginia had about 2.9 and 2.6 times as many systems software developers, respectively, as the U.S. as a whole. At the metropolitan area level, this occupation was particularly concentrated in San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, Calif., and the Framingham, Mass., NECTA division, both of which had concentrations of systems software developers nearly 10 times the U.S. average.
  • Some occupations were especially concentrated geographically. For example, about 70 percent of petroleum engineers were employed in only three states: Texas, Oklahoma, and California. Metropolitan areas with the highest concentrations of this occupation included Midland, Texas, which had a concentration of petroleum engineers nearly 72 times the U.S. average; Casper, Wyoming and Houston-Sugarland-Baytown, Texas.
  • Wages for a given occupation also varied by area. In addition to having a high employment  concentration of systems software developers, San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, Calif., also was the highest paying metropolitan area for this occupation, with an annual mean wage of $138,410. Wages for systems software developers in other metropolitan areas ranged from $52,720 in Lafayette, La., to $124,220 in the Oakland-Fremont-Hayward, Calif., metropolitan division. At the state level, wages for this occupation ranged from $68,580 in North Dakota to $124,070 in California.

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