Salaries for Some of America’s Toughest Jobs

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AlexBrylov / Getty Images/iStockphoto

Some jobs are more physically demanding, dangerous, emotionally draining or mentally taxing than others.

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Some of these tough jobs require years of study, while others require on-the-job experience and rigorous physical training. The one thing all 29 of these jobs have in common is that they are hard in one way or another — and often in more than one way. But the pay you’ll earn with these tough jobs is all over the map.

Last updated: June 24, 2020



  • Annual pay: $65,140 to $100,701

Working as an astronaut can be physically demanding. Among the many qualifications to get the gig, you have to pass the NASA long-duration physical and complete a two-year training period. During that time you will have to be able to swim three lengths of a pool and tread water for 10 minutes while wearing a flight suit and tennis shoes, pass scuba qualification to complete further underwater training, and be exposed to microgravity and low and high atmospheric pressure, CBS News reported.

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Coast Guard Member

  • Basic pay: $20,000 per year, plus benefits

Working for the Coast Guard can entail a range of duties, from saving lives to busting drug traffickers. To join, you must pass an eight-week boot camp that is challenging both mentally and physically. In addition to learning about first aid and weapons handling, Coast Guard hopefuls must take daily physical fitness and water survival classes.

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Construction Worker

  • Median pay: $35,800 per year

Construction workers are essentially jacks of all trades. Their tasks might include digging ditches, demolishing buildings and assembling highways. The physically demanding job was rated as one of the most high-stress jobs by U.S. News & World Report based on the work environment and the complexities of the job’s responsibilities.

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Deep Sea Fisherman

  • Median pay: $28,530 per year

Fishing is one of the most deadly jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ data on fatality rates by occupation. Working as a fisherman means dealing with life-threatening hazards that people in other fields don’t encounter, such as vessel-related casualties, falling overboard and diving accidents.

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  • Median pay: $27,840 per year

Depending on how big your farm is and whether or not you have outside help, your hours could truly be sunup to sundown with no days off. In addition to the physical demands of the job, it can also be extremely stressful, as your livelihood depends on growing conditions, weather and the demand for whatever you’re producing.

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  • Median pay: $49,620 per year

Firefighters work shifts that can last up to 24 hours, and the job is physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting. In addition to fighting fires, these professionals also often act as on-site medical personnel in the case of an emergency, and they often have other people’s lives in their hands.

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Home Health Aide

  • Median pay: $24,200 per year

Home health aides help people with disabilities, chronic illnesses or cognitive impairment to perform day-to-day tasks. While the job can be rewarding, it’s demanding and the pay is low — the median pay is $11.57 an hour — which leads to a high turnover rate.

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  • Median pay: $40,650 per year

Lumberjacks harvest forests to gather the wood that’s used for consumer goods and industrial products. It’s a physically demanding job that can be dangerous, and the work environment isn’t always ideal. While it might seem nice to be able to work outside all day, the weather can be harsh and the areas lumberjacks work in are often very isolated.

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  • Median pay: $54,840 per year

Mining — particularly coal mining — is a relatively dangerous industry compared to most private industry jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Miners are more likely to be killed, get injured or become sick than most other workers. The dangers they face every day can include toxic gases, fires, explosions and the risk of being crushed. Miners can work long shifts and can work up to 10 days in a row, Business Insider reported. Even with the latest technology, the job can be physically demanding and require repetitive tasks — all while working in the dark.

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Mountain Guide

  • Median pay: $24,920 per year

Being a mountain guide requires physical strength as well as the ability to teach others and keep them safe. Guides often wake up before dawn and work for two weeks at a time, so finding work-life balance can be tough.

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  • Median pay: Over $208,000 per year

Being able to perform brain surgery unsurprisingly requires years of education and training. After completing a bachelor’s degree, aspiring neurosurgeons attend four years of medical school followed by a one-year internship in general surgery and then five to seven years in a neurosurgery residency program. Once you jump through all the educational hoops, you’re faced with a job that can be both physically and mentally taxing, as surgeries can require extremely long hours.

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Oil Rig Worker

  • Median pay: $46,120 per year

Oil rigs operate all day, every day, so the hours required of workers on these sites can be long — shifts can be 12 hours straight. The environment can be dangerous, and you’re also expected to work in all weather conditions.

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  • Median pay: More than $208,000 per year

Sadness and death are part of the job when you work as an oncologist, though it’s also incredibly rewarding when you can help return a cancer patient to good health. Oncology is arguably one of the most emotionally difficult fields of medicine and becoming an oncologist is tough. Oncologists must complete a bachelor’s degree, four years of medical school and two to five years in a residency program.

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  • Median pay: $0

Being a parent is definitely one of the hardest jobs you can have. There are no set hours and you’re expected to be on call around-the-clock for at least 18 years. The job is physically, mentally and emotionally demanding, and duties can include cooking, cleaning, teaching, nurturing, supporting and playing.

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  • Median pay: $115,670 per year

Pilots have to be able to troubleshoot quickly and effectively to keep themselves and their passengers safe, which certainly makes for a stressful work environment. From mechanical issues to thunderstorms, pilots have to be prepared for the worst and know how to deal with all emergencies on the spot.

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Police Officer

  • Median pay: $63,380 per year

Police officers have a higher risk of work-related injury or illness than most other occupations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Officers risk death by violence and transportation incidents while on the job. In addition to being dangerous, police work often requires being on duty at night or on weekends and holidays, as well as working on the hottest days and coldest nights. 

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Postal Worker

  • Median pay: $58,760 per year

Mail carriers must be able to lift heavy packages, and they work in all sorts of extreme weather — from hail to heat waves. There’s usually also overtime work required, especially during the holiday season, and many postal employees work on Saturdays, too. And there’s always the looming threat of being bitten by an unfriendly dog who lives on the postal route.

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  • Median pay: $400,000 per year, plus $50,000 for expenses

Being the president of the United States is considered by many to be the hardest job in the world. As the president, you’re responsible for making deals with other nations, making major decisions relating to national security, keeping the economy afloat, being a spokesperson for the American people and navigating political divides within the country, among a myriad of other high-profile tasks. One misstep could lead to a plummeting economy or international war, as well as have major effects on an entire nation and ripple effects across the world.

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Prison Guard

  • Median pay: $44,400 per year

Working as a correctional officer in a prison can be both stressful and dangerous. This job has one of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses of all occupations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. These injuries are often the result of confrontations with inmates. Prison guards work in shifts that can include nights, weekends and holidays.

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Professional Athlete

  • Median pay: $50,650

While high-profile professional athletes earn multimillion-dollar paychecks, others are paid much, much less  — especially those in the minor leagues. Some minor-league baseball players are paid below the poverty level,  yet they still are expected to train just as hard. It’s also a line of work in which injuries are pretty much guaranteed, and one injury could be career-ending.

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Sanitation Worker

  • Median pay: $37,260

Working in sanitation is not only a dirty job, but a tough one, too. Sanitation workers must be able to lift heavy trash cans and other waste, be comfortable operating heavy machinery and be able to navigate large trucks through crowded streets and narrow alleyways. They also work in all weather, and they might work nights, holidays and weekends.

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Secret Service Agent

  • Median pay: $141,291

Even the Secret Service acknowledges that working as a special agent is “challenging.” Agents are responsible for investigating crimes and protecting the United States’ leaders — and must put their own lives on the line to do so.



  • Median pay: $21,780 per year

Servers are under constant pressure to take care of their customers quickly and efficiently, especially during busy times. It’s also a job that requires lots of time on your feet, plus working nights, weekends and holidays.


Social Worker

  • Median pay: $49,470 per year

Becoming a clinical social worker requires a master’s degree and two years of post-master’s experience working in a supervised clinical setting. Once you make it through the training, you’re thrown into tough work environments that can include mental health clinics, child welfare and human service agencies, hospitals and settlement houses. 

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  • Median pay: $26,802 per year

Becoming a soldier in the U.S. Army requires basic combat training and advanced individual training, as well as ongoing physical and mental training. And if you get deployed abroad, this can mean extended periods of time away from friends and family while putting your life on the line.



  • Median pay: $3,746 per week

As with any acting gig, stuntman roles can be hard to come by. If you do get work, you have to be game for almost anything, from being thrown out of a window to performing motorcycle stunts — moves that, of course, put you at risk for major injury.



  • Median pay: $57,980 per year

Being a teacher is arguably one of the most stressful jobs you can have. There’s no downtime when you are with students, and teachers always have to be prepared — not only for their lessons but to deal with any problems as they arise. The job also requires a lot of work outside of school hours, preparing lesson plans and grading papers. Teachers are also under constant scrutiny and are expected to prepare students to perform well on standardized tests.


Truck Driver

  • Median pay: $43,680 per year

Being a long-haul truck driver can entail being away from home for days or weeks at a time, so it can be tough to maintain a work-life balance with this job.

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  • Median pay: $41,380

Work environments for welders are often less than ideal. Some work outdoors, which can entail working in inclement weather, and others work indoors in sometimes very confined spaces. They might also work on a scaffold, which makes the job dangerous. Welders might have to work in awkward positions and lift heavy objects, too.

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    Salary data for construction worker, deep sea fisherman, farmer, firefighter, home health aide, lumberjack, miner, mountain guide, neurosurgeon, oil rig worker, oncologist, pilot, police officer, postal worker, prison guard, professional athlete, sanitation worker, server, social worker, teacher, truck driver and welder was sourced from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Astronaut salary data was sourced from NASA. Coast Guard salary data was sourced from GoCoastGuard.com. President salary data was sourced from the Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute. Secret Service agent salary data was sourced from Glassdoor. Soldier salary data was sourced from GoArmy.com and represents the pay of a Private First Class with four years of experience. Stuntman salary data was sourced from the SAG AFTRA Theatrical Wage Table. All salaries are accurate as of Oct. 9, 2019.