30 Hardest Jobs to Do in the U.S.
Many of us get stressed out by our jobs. There’s the pressure to perform well and the self-doubt that occurs if we’re passed up for a promotion or our career path doesn’t go as planned.
While it’s easy (and totally OK) to think, “I have the world’s toughest job,” there are certain professions that come with more challenges — and more risks — than others. Here are the top 30 hardest jobs to do across America.
Average salary: $30,930
No. of people with this job in the U.S.: 117,610
Why telemarketing is so tough: When was the last time you bought something from a total stranger who cold-called you during dinner? Likely never, as telemarketers have a success rate of about 1 to 3 percent. As one of the jobs that people love to loathe, telephone salespeople can barely make their pitch before someone screams “not interested!” and ends the call.
In addition to hostile voices they encounter on the phone, telemarketers constantly worry about job security and have abysmal working conditions, where they go long hours without breaks and get constant coaching (read: harassing) from their supervisors.
Average salary: $41,280
No. of people with this job in the U.S.: 110,500
Why being a photographer is so tough: A good photographer may be hard to find, but the bigger issue is fewer people are looking to employ them. While there’s no arguing the value of a great eye and photography skills, especially for wedding photos and baby portraits, the rise of better-equipped smartphone cameras and DIY editing software has made more people feel like professional photographers and less likely to call on one.
With fewer opportunities and fierce competition, photographers often have to zoom in on other jobs to get by.
28. Retail Worker
Average salary: $25,440
No. of people with this job in the U.S.: 15.16 million
Why retail work is so tough: One word: customers. With the public’s varied needs, it’s nearly impossible to make sure all shoppers are satisfied. Retail workers spend long hours dealing with demands, handling complaints and working really hard to please people. They work holidays, nights and weekends, and employers aren’t typically generous with paid time off, so missing shifts could mean missing a paycheck.
As the pandemic hit, many retail workers lost their jobs or risked their own health to keep grocery stores, pharmacies and other essential stores running — with many making $15 or less an hour. They often view their jobs as unfulfilling and temporary; according to the National Retail Federation, the retail industry’s average employee turnover rate is about 60 percent.
27. Personal Assistant
Average salary: $39,663
No. of people with this job in the U.S.: 40,832
Why being a personal assistant is so tough: It’s hard to imagine this kind of job without envisioning “The Devil Wears Prada”or feeling aghast at the way celebrities have physically or mentally abused their personal assistants. This role is responsible for just about everything, from keeping their bosses’ calendars to walking their seven Pomeranians, with little boundaries and no room for error.
Personal assistants rarely receive praise when things run smoothly and are the first to get blamed if something goes wrong (even if it’s beyond their control, like a flight delay), creating a highly stressful and often toxic workspace.
26. Restaurant Worker/Bartender
Average salary: Servers, $23,740; bartenders: $24,960
No. of people with this job in the U.S.: Servers: 2.6 million; bartenders: 654,700
Why being a restaurant server or bartender is so tough: Some people are at their worst when they’re drunk or hangry, and food servers and bartenders have to spend hours on their feet dealing with patrons who can get belligerent, hostile and a little too handsy. And since they rely on tips, many servers and bartenders feel compelled to hold their tongues and absorb the abuse.
They work grueling 12-hour shifts, have to travel home late at night and are constantly exposed to loud talking and music, which puts them at risk for hearing damage.
25. Car Mechanic
Average salary: $44,050
No. of people with this job in the U.S.: 703,800
Why being a car mechanic is so tough: Have you ever seen anyone happy to be at a repair shop? Odds are, neither have mechanics. Besides dealing with the stress of cranky customers expecting the quickest, cheapest fix to their car issues, mechanics face unsafe working conditions in which they can easily get burned, electrocuted or incur other bodily injuries.
They have to perpetually contort themselves into uncomfortable positions, which takes a real toll on their knees and backs. Their loud, grease-filled workspace also puts them at risk for hearing damage and respiratory issues.
24. Social Worker
Average salary: $51,760
No. of people with this job in the U.S.: 715,600
Why social work is so tough: Social workers often have their client’s best interests at heart, but working with underserved individuals who have gone through abuse and trauma, and who have complex needs, can weigh heavily on a person.
Social workers also have an unpredictable work schedule, heavy caseloads, little support and the frustration of not being able to help every client, so is it any wonder that 75 percent of social workers experience burnout at some point in their career?
Average salary: $68,090
No. of people with this job in the U.S.: 888,300
Why farming is so tough: Besides having a job that is physically demanding and requires you to wake up with the rooster crows, farmers combat environmental challenges such as fires, droughts, global warming and animals that eat their livestock and destroy their crops — which seriously deplete their supplies and significantly reduce their income (and their own resources to live on).
Farming is also one of the deadliest jobs in America; twice as deadly as law enforcement and five times deadlier than firefighting, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Average salary: $28,850
No. of people with this job in the U.S: 20,200
Why being a referee is so tough: Would you want 100,000 people booing at you? Since sports fans are, um, enthusiastic, referees have the daunting task of enforcing the rules and maintaining order while incurring their wrath. Refs are constantly verbally abused and some have even been stalked or received death threats.
While professional sports leagues such as the NBA and NFL pay refs in the six figures, an average salary of under $30,000 makes this a job with low pay and high stress.
21. IT Manager
Average salary: $151,150
No. of people with this job in the U.S: 482,000
Why being an IT manager is so tough: Rapidly changing technology coupled with the incessant need to think on your feet and come up with quick solutions, especially when a company’s entire network goes down or is the victim of a cyber attack, makes being a being an IT Management among the hardest jobs out there.
For a commonly introverted group, communicating with many people across different departments can be more challenging and exhausting than other professions.
Average salary: $89,650
No. of people with this job in the U.S: 6.9 million
Why being a scientist is so tough: After 12 years (or more) of school, many scientists struggle to find jobs in their field. Those who do get work often receive contract jobs that only last two to three years. As the pandemic showed us, there’s a lot of pressure and demand on scientists to come up with effective vaccines, and every setback is scrutinized (even though we all know research doesn’t always go the way you want it to).
The intense pressure to meet tight deadlines and quickly problem-solve as experiments go awry make it hard for scientists to have a work-life balance, sacrificing family and personal time for long hours in the lab.
Average salary: $59,980
No. of people with this job in the U.S: 24,560
Why being a mortician is so tough: You know a job is hard when dealing with the deceased is oftentimes easier than working with the living. Morticians have the unfortunate double duty of embalming, cleaning and grooming a dead body for funeral services, while also being there to counsel and console grieving loved ones.
Unfortunately, they saw a lot of business over the last year and a half, with many having to figure out how to adjust their services under COVID restrictions. Their job is so stressful that 20 percent of morticians develop PTSD, according to a Harvard University study.
Average salary: $67,707
No. of people with this job in the U.S: 667,940
Why being a bodyguard is so tough: Thirty years ago, “The Bodyguard” gave us a Whitney Houston-Kevin Costner romance that lit up the screen and made the profession look really cool, and to this day, we’re still singing“I Will Always Love You.” Yet actual bodyguards are playing a different tune.
Protecting politicians, celebrities and prominent business people comes with always being on call and on your toes, excelling at combat and weaponry and having someone’s life in your hands. Yeah, no pressure there…
Average salary: $48,460
No. of people with this job in the U.S: 128,600
Why being a chef is so tough: Have you ever organized a dinner party and had to prepare different meals to suit each guest’s taste? Well, imagine doing that every night at a restaurant filled with hungry diners. As the head of the kitchen, chefs are tasked with creating recipes that can satisfy a variety of palettes, making sure meals are prepared quickly and correctly (especially if a customer asks for the dreaded modification) and taking the heat if anything goes wrong.
Not to mention the literal heat of the kitchen, which can cause accidents and injuries.
Average salary: $82,180
No. of people with this job in the U.S: 178,900
Why being a psychologist is so tough: Helping others with their problems is difficult and emotionally draining, and psychologists have to be extra careful not to take their work home with them, which is easier said than done. Given the private nature of their interactions with clients, it’s also harder for them to vent about something that happened at work, which causes pent-up stress.
Additionally, setting up a practice (and keeping it going) is a daunting task, as therapists have to find affordable office space, obtain new clients and face piles of paperwork. Plus, dealing with complicated billing issues and working with insurance companies is never easy.
15. Bus Driver
Average salary: $40, 918
No. of people with this job in the U.S: 259,260
Why driving a bus is so tough: Hauling people through city streets on a 40-foot bus isn’t for the faint of heart. There are narrow lanes, tight turns, dodging double-parked cars and dealing with unruly passengers. Sadly, bus drivers have been screamed at, spat at and physically assaulted while behind the wheel.
Yet even with a high risk of contracting COVID, bus drivers were there to keep cities running and provide dependable rides for essential workers and several lost their lives in the process. Driving a bus is also physically taxing, as navigating through potholes and poor pavement leads to bouncy rides that can cause chronic pain in a person’s back and legs.
14. Construction Worker
Average salary: $37,080
No. of people with this job in the U.S: 1.5 million
Why construction work is so tough: Long, hot days in the sun or extreme cold coupled with backbreaking work and high risks of injuries makes construction jobs very challenging.
It also comes with the stigma that being a construction worker means having to show you’re tough, leading many individuals to bottle up their feelings and battle depression after an injury. According to studies, about 16 percent of construction workers suffer from mental distress.
13. Air Traffic Controller
Average salary: $130,420
No. of people with this job in the U.S: 14,000
Why air traffic control is so tough: Helping pilots safely take off, land and navigate weather comes with the need to perpetually stay focused (no glancing away from the screen to look at your phone!) and think quickly under pressure. As you can imagine, being responsible for the lives of thousands of airline passengers and crew 365 days a year comes with a lot of pressure.
Many air traffic controllers suffer from sleepless nights and develop chronic fatigue or heart issues. The job is so demanding that the Federal Aviation Administration requires air traffic controllers to retire at age 56 and requires those applying for the job to be 30 or younger.
12. Advertising Salesperson
Average salary: $51,740
No. of people with this job in the U.S: 133,110
Why advertising sales is so tough: Even the best salesperson will face a slump. Many people in this profession attempt to sell ads for newspapers, magazines and other print media, but as those outlets decline sales become harder and harder. Advertising salespeople are perpetually frustrated by putting tons of energy and long periods of time into a pitch, only to receive a no.
Still, those in sales face immense pressure to meet sales quotas and help their company earn revenue, leading to low self-esteem and high levels of stress and anxiety.
Average salary: $90, 965
No. of people with this job in the U.S: 45 (active)
Why being an astronaut is so tough: Sure, billionaires can buy their way into space, but that’s a far cry from what it takes to become an actual astronaut. For starters, the competition is sky high; over 18,000 apply to open positions at NASA, and the agency only selects a handful. Then, there’s the grueling training.
And if you’re lucky enough to make it to space, you have to contend with little things like space radiation, zero gravity, isolation, claustrophobia-inducing environments and, you know, aliens.
10. Public Relations Agent
Average salary: $62,810
No. of people with this job in the U.S: 272,300
Why public relations is so tough: PR agents must really hate Twitter and other social media outlets where their high-profile client writes something incredibly dumb or insensitive. An image bodyguard, PR agents work all hours of the day to get their clients good media coverage and heighten their popularity and, yes, clean up their messes.
They have to deal with difficult personalities in a cutthroat industry and perpetually come up with creative spins to make sure their clients look good even in the most extreme situations, a task that involves a lot of nail-biting and stress.
9. Event Planner
Average salary: $51,560
No. of people with this job in the U.S: 125,900
Why event planning is so tough: When an event needs to go off without a single hitch and every last detail, from table centerpieces and guest names spelled correctly to the literal icing on the cake, has to be perfect, event planning is not a job for the faint of heart. Planners need to be super organized, deal with time-sensitive deadlines, have excellent problem-solving skills and work with several moving parts.
They get blamed for vendor hold-ups and delays and must work quickly to solve them, and if something does go wrong during an event, their client may blow their top and make it nearly impossible to find more work.
8. Police Officer
Average salary: $67,290
No. of people with this job in the U.S: 795,000
Why being a police officer is so tough: A job in which you put your life on the line every day is never going to be easy. Police offers see some of the worst in humanity, dealing with things like armed robbery, horrific traffic accidents, murder and domestic abuse.
The trauma they see and the hard decisions they must make can cause long bouts of depression and chronic stress; as a group, police officers have one of the nation’s highest suicide rates.
7. News Reporter
Average salary: $66,496
No. of people with this job in the U.S: 41,580
Why being a news reporter is so tough: A great reporter will stop at nothing to get their story, but sometimes, that means entering a dangerous situation, risking their lives and putting themselves under intense pressure to break a news story before their competition beats them to it.
Though the job comes with the thrills of telling different stories and being a part of exciting events, there’s also an unpredictable and demanding work schedule, sacrificing personal lives, the possibility of quick burnout and public backlash from critics who disagree with how a story is portrayed.
6. Taxi Driver
Average salary: $25,980
No. of people with this job in the U.S.: 207,920
Why being a taxi driver is so tough: There’s a reason we often want someone else to do the driving: Who wants to deal with traffic jams, awful weather and other drivers swerving in and out of lanes? Thankfully, we have taxi drivers to depend on for when we need a ride to the airport or want to enjoy a night out on the town.
Of course, being the one in the driver’s seat is much harder. Taxi drivers face all of the above, plus work around the clock, make little money and get stuck with unruly passengers. It’s enough to make anyone want to hit the brakes on this kind of job.
Average salary: $52,500
No. of people with this job in the U.S: 317,200
Why being a firefighter is so tough: They literally fight fires, one of the most destructive and unpredictable forces we know. Whether it’s saving people from burning buildings or combating wildfires, firefighters perpetually risk their lives to keep others safe. It’s a task they can’t exactly plan for either, as it’s hard to know how dangerous a fire will be and how many people are in danger until they arrive on the scene.
They face the severe challenges of heat exhaustion, smoke inhalation and collapsing buildings, plus work long, unpredictable hours. Besides the physical toll this takes on their bodies, firefighters have high levels of stress that can cause heart disease, strokes or depression.
4. Airline Pilot
Average salary: $93,300
No. of people with this job in the U.S: 37,120
Why being a pilot is so tough: Pilots don’t just get you to that tropical beach destination you’ve been longing for, they face a slew of challenges in the process. Being responsible for all of the lives on board a flight, they must know every last detail of how a plane operates, have the ability to navigate through tough weather, stay in constant contact with air traffic control and, in extreme situations, have the skills and temperament to make emergency landings.
In addition, they get blamed when a flight is delayed, occasionally have to deal with unruly passengers, work unpredictable schedules and face stiff competition for jobs.
Average salary: $60,477
No. of people with this job in the U.S.: 3.5 million
Why teaching is so tough: Having to discipline students who act out or find creative ways to connect with those who need a little help was already mentally exhausting for teachers. But in COVID times, they had to learn a whole new style of teaching to adapt to online learning, often with little support or guidance from school administrations, and worry about the virus spreading through their classroom.
Talk about getting an A for effort and a C for chronic stress. And homework isn’t just for students. After an exhausting day, teachers still have to grade papers, plan lessons and field phone calls from parents.
2. Healthcare Professional
Average salary: $69,870
No. of people with this job in the U.S: 22 million
Why being a healthcare professional is so tough: After the last year and a half, this explanation might just be a “duh.” In ordinary times, doctors, nurses, paramedics and other healthcare professionals are pushed to their limits as they tirelessly work to keep people healthy and save lives.
But as COVID-19 continues to rage across the country, these individuals are experiencing the biggest challenges of their careers, continuously putting their own health at risk, dealing with a lack of space and medical supplies, and facing unprecedented levels of stress, anxiety and fatigue.
1. Military Personnel
No. of people with this job in the U.S.: 561,979
Why being in the military is so tough: With a job that can literally be a war zone, causing the anxiety of facing life and death situations and spending a lot of time away from loved ones, those who serve in the military have the toughest job we can imagine.
For their brave service, many earn less than $30,000 a year, and the job comes with a real risk of developing PTSD and other mental health issues.