How Much 15 Types of Essential Workers Earn

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Essential worker
G-Stock Studio /

Since the coronavirus was declared a global pandemic, many people have been able to keep working online.

Others don’t have that luxury. They’ve had to risk their health to perform vital jobs and services to keep the country afloat with thousands sick and dying of COVID-19 and millions losing their jobs.

For a look at what some of these vital workers are paid, we examine the mean (average) hourly wage of 15 essential professions, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.


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These heroic folks are the one of the backbones of the health care industry. Often they work huge caseloads and long hours.

Registered nurses are paid an average hourly wage of $37.24, with South Dakota registered nurses paid the least and those in California paid the most. We give the details in “How Much Nurses Make in Every State.”

Nurse practitioners — registered nurses who diagnose illness, order tests and prescribe medication — earn an average $53.77 per hour. Nursing assistants — who might perform feeding, bathing and dressing of patients — earn $14.77 per hour.


Teacher in a face mask explaining math
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The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown this profession into flux, forcing educators to pivot from in-person to online instruction and then maybe back to in-person.

As Money Talks News reports in “Here’s How Much Teachers Are Paid in Every State,” average annual wages for teachers are:

  • $63,930 for elementary school
  • $63,550 for middle school
  • $65,930 for high school

The lowest average pay for teachers is in Mississippi ($44,060) and the highest is in New York ($82,830).

EMTs and paramedics

A paramedic treats an injured woman /

These workers earn an average of $18.67 per hour, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The top 10% make nearly $29 per hour. Populous states — California, Texas and New York, for example — have the highest number of these workers.

These workers have one of the most dangerous professions in the country, as we explain in “20 Jobs That Cause the Most Illness and Injury.”


Store cashier in mask

Cashiers, who are the initial and sometimes only point of contact for retail customers, earn an average wage of $11.72 per hour across the nation as of May 2019, we report in “How Much Cashiers Earn in Every State.”

But wages differ greatly state to state, however, with cashiers in Mississippi and Louisiana getting less than $10 per hour and those in Washington state and Washington, D.C., averaging nearly $15 per hour.

Law enforcement officers

New York City police
Steve Sanchez Photos /

Crime hasn’t hidden from the coronavirus, with violence surging in several U.S. cities. The thin blue line is here to keep us safe, and here is what some sectors of law enforcement are paid:

  • Police and sheriff’s patrol officers, $32.50 per hour
  • Transit and railroad police, $34.19 per hour
  • Correctional officers and jailers, $24.10 per hour

Wondering how much money police earn in your area? Check out “How Much Police Make in Every State.”

Postal workers

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“Neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet, nor hail shall keep the postmen from their appointed rounds,” the old saying goes. U.S. Postal Service workers dutifully keep the mail moving to every corner of the United States.

Average hourly wages for the industry include:

  • $25.09 for mail carriers
  • $24.33 for clerks
  • $24.61 for sorters, processors and processing machine operators

Veterinary workers

Veterinarian with dog
Ivonne Wierink /

Cats and dogs need care, regardless of a quarantine.

Veterinarians earn an average of $50.39 per hour, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports. Veterinary technologists and technicians earn $17.63 per hour, on average, and veterinary assistants get paid $14.28 hourly.

Pharmacy workers

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Pharmacists dispense drugs and advise physicians on dosages and side effects. They earn an average hourly wage of $60.34, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Rhode Island, Montana and West Virginia have the highest concentrations of people in this field.

Pharmacy technicians, who mainly prepare medications, make $16.95 per hour. Pharmacy aides — they record drugs delivered to the pharmacy, store merchandise and keep track of stock — make an average of $14.66 per hour.

Restaurant workers

Restaurant cook in mask and gloves
Syda Productions /

Dining establishments are unable to seat at full capacity because of social distancing guidelines, when they are even allowed to seat anyone at all. They have been slammed by the pandemic. But delivery, take-out and limited seating have kept many restaurants struggling along.

In this industry, food servers earn an average wage of $12.88 per hour, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Cooks earn an average of $13.80.

Child care workers

Parent and child use hand sanitizer and face masks at school
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The pay for these folks, who take care of children at schools, businesses, households and other institutions, averages $12.27 hourly, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Of the estimated 561,520 child care workers in the U.S., the majority are working in California, New York and Texas.

Dental workers

Catalin Petolea /

No one wants a screaming toothache while sheltering in place. Even during a pandemic, teeth and gums still need lots of care.

General dentists earn an average hourly wage of $85.70 per hour. Hygienists get $37.13 per hour, and dental assistants earn $19.79 per hour.


doctor in a mask
Syda Productions /

This is one of those times in history when these professionals are crucially important. Many are tasked with diagnosing and treating an illness that medicine is still learning about. Meanwhile, they carry on with their regular duties, treating other diseases and conditions.

There are many specialties in medicine, but here is a salary snapshot of three:

  • Family medicine physicians earn $102.53 per hour, on average.
  • Surgeons generally earn $121.17 per hour.
  • Psychiatrists are paid an average of $105.98 per hour.


Firefighters extinguishing blaze
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The folks riding the big red trucks and facing down searing flames earn an average wage of $26.27 per hour, says the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Funeral service workers

Cremation urn at a funeral
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The funeral industry has been busy as the coronavirus pandemic has claimed 163,000 lives and counting in the United States.

Morticians, undertakers and funeral arrangers — Texas is the biggest employer of these workers — earn $28.06 per hour, on average.

Embalmers are paid $24.09 per hour, and funeral attendants earn $14.34 per hour.

News media

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As we all read and watch the news to learn the latest on the pandemic, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that workers in this profession earn $30 per hour, on average.

Pay shoots up considerably in Washington, D.C. There, analysts, reporters and journalists take home an hourly average of $49.67.

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