How Much are our Heroes Worth?

How does an employer determine how much they will pay for people to do certain jobs? Some occupations, for instance, carry more risk and intensity while others require more work experience and education. A number of jobs fall into three broad categories that provide important services to society: protect the public, save lives, and encounter danger or adventure. Here are some occupations that fall under these categories:

Protect the Public

  • Correctional officers: responsible for accused or convicted criminals.

  • Criminal investigators: visit crime scenes and carry out arrests.

  • Firefighters: first responders during medical emergencies and fires.

  • Police: protect communities and respond to criminal activity.

  • Security guards: monitor and prevent theft and illegal activity.

Save Lives

  • Ambulance drivers and attendants: operate vehicles that transport patients.

  • Critical care nurses: responsible for patients in intensive care.

  • 9-1-1 operators: notify first responders.

  • EMTs and paramedics: treat sick or injured people at the crisis scene.

  • Physicians and Surgeons: perform advanced treatment for patients.

Encounter Danger or Adventure

  • Explosives workers: work with volatile substances.

  • Fishing workers: work in all weather conditions.

  • Hazmat removal workers: rush to scene of accidents and disasters.

  • Extreme sports instructors: teach sports such as rock climbing or skydiving.

  • Occupational Trainers: Teach or instruct courses other than those that normally lead to an occupational objective or degree.

Is the Money Worth It?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2014 data for employment, approximately 6.9 million people were employed under one of the three categories mentioned above. Below is a breakout of the number of employees and the median wages for each respective job:

Protect the Public: 2.7 million Employed | $49,368 Median Wage.

  • Correctional officers: $39,780.

  • Criminal investigators: $79,870.

  • Firefighters: $45,970.

  • Police: $56,810.

  • Security guards: $24,410.

Save Lives: 3.8 million Employed | $69,406 Median Wage.

  • Ambulance drivers and attendants: $24,080.

  • Registered Nurses: $66,640.

  • 9-1-1 operators: $37,410.

  • EMTs and paramedics: $31,700.

  • Physicians and Surgeons: $187,200.

Encounter Danger or Adventure: 0.4 million Employed | $39,803 Median Wage.*

  • Explosives workers: $52,140.

  • Fishing workers: $32,530.

  • Hazmat removal workers: $38,520.

  • Extreme sports instructors: $36,020.

  • Navy Seals: $22,992.**

  • Occupational trainers: $36,020.

It is important to note that pay is often determined by a number of time and monetary requirements, including the typical education needed for entry, work experience needed in a related occupation, and typical on-the-job training needed to attain competency. Of these jobs, physicians and surgeons make the most, with a median wage of $187,200 or more while ambulance drivers make the least. Although physicians make over 7x more than ambulance drivers, they must have a professional degree and work as an intern and resident for several years. On the other hand, ambulance drivers require only a high school diploma and moderate-term on-the-job training. Each job provides an important service to society but with vastly different pay. In general, people are paid more for jobs that require more education and/or are very risky, but even with this group of “heroes”, not all pay is the same. How can an employer quantify an individual’s contribution to society and the risks involved with their work? Is the extra risk and intensity worth the additional money?

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