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13 Low-Paying Jobs That Actually Pay Off in Retirement

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Not every job can command a six-figure salary, or make you a millionaire before you retire. In fact, many occupations that workers regard as personally fulfilling are among the lowest-paying jobs. The good news is that even low-paying jobs can pay off in the long run with high retirement benefits, thanks to generous contributions from certain employers.

GOBankingRates examined various lower-paying occupations to determine the best ones for retirement benefits based on employer contribution per hour. Here’s a look at 13 jobs with above-average retirement benefits despite paying a low salary.

Last updated: Sept. 2, 2021
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1. Transportation and Warehousing

    Transportation and warehousing is a fundamental occupation for many industries. This category of jobs includes occupations such as bus driver. Although workers earn more than the minimum wage, pay overall is still low.

    However, employers contribute about 21% more than the national average to the retirement benefits of transportation and warehousing workers. This results in a decent retirement benefit for a lower-wage job.

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    How It Pays Off

    • Annual pay: $48,526
    • Employer contribution per hour: $2.39
    • Percent of total compensation: 5.9%
    • Annual retirement benefits: $4,971.20

    Read: 25 Tried-and-True Jobs That Will Last Through Any Recession

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    2. Construction, Extraction, Farming, Fishing and Forestry

      These workers put in a hard day’s work for a hard day’s pay. This wide-ranging occupation category includes jobs like construction trades workers.

      Retirement benefits aren’t among the highest in the country, but the employer contribution per hour on behalf of employees is still much higher than the national average.

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      How It Pays Off

      • Annual pay: $49,930
      • Employer contribution per hour: $2.66
      • Percent of total compensation: 6.9%
      • Annual retirement benefits: $5,532.80

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      3. Education and Health Services

      Education and health services is a sector of the service-providing industry. This category includes child care workers and others who work in healthcare, education services and social assistance jobs. Most employees in this industry work for private businesses, but may also work for the local, state or federal government.

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      How It Pays Off

      • Annual pay: $52,728
      • Employer contribution per hour: $3.06
      • Percent of total compensation: 7.1%
      • Annual retirement benefits: $6,364.80
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      4. Sales and Office Occupations — State and Local

        Sales is known as a field where workers can make a lot of money, and in some industries, the sky truly is the limit. However, if you work in sales and related occupations for a state or local government, you might be disappointed to learn that the average annual pay is among the lowest of any occupation. The good news is that as with most government work, your employer will kick in quite a bit towards your retirement, leaving you with a high level of annual retirement benefits for your annual wage.

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        How It Pays Off

        • Annual pay: $43,060
        • Employer contribution per hour: $4.00
        • Percent of total compensation: 11%
        • Annual retirement benefits: $8,320
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        5. Office and Administrative Support Occupations — State and Local Government

            Office and administrative support occupations are generally not high paying. This is particularly true when the employer is a state or local government. The tradeoff is enhanced retirement benefits. State and local governments provide more than double the average national employer contribution towards retirement benefits of $1.97 per hour for their office and administrative workers, which includes positions like dispatchers.

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            How It Pays Off

            • Annual pay: $41,040
            • Employer contribution per hour: $4.03
            • Percent of total compensation: 11%
            • Annual retirement benefits: $8,382.40
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            6. Healthcare and Social Assistance — State and Local Government

              As with other state and local government workers, those in the field of healthcare and social assistance draw a salary that’s under the median annual salary of $53,893. However, government employers sock away $4.10 per hour in retirement benefits for healthcare and social assistance workers, more than double the national average for all employers.

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              How It Pays Off

              • Annual pay: $53,435
              • Employer contribution per hour: $4.10
              • Percent of total compensation: 8.8%
              • Annual retirement benefits: $8,528
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              7. Aircraft Manufacturing

              Aircraft manufacturing can be an exciting industry, but it’s not among the country’s highest-paid professions. Though wages are moderate, the real payoff for these workers comes in retirement. The average annual retirement benefit is over 7% of an aircraft manufacturing worker’s annual pay, thanks to a per-hour employer retirement contribution that’s nearly 2.6 times the national average.

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              How It Pays Off

              • Annual pay: $56,460
              • Employer contribution per hour: $5.09
              • Percent of total compensation: 7.2%
              • Annual retirement benefits: $10,587.20

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              8. Utilities

              Compared to some of the other professions on this list, utility workers aren’t exactly “low-paid,” with annual earnings surpassing $80,000. In spite of that relatively high wage, utility workers, like meter readers, also enjoy high annual retirement benefits. This is helped by the 9.5% of total compensation that employers kick in to utility workers’ retirement benefits. While making a decent wage is a good work payoff, utility workers can look forward to a good retirement as well.

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              How It Pays Off

              • Annual pay: $80,995
              • Employer contribution per hour: $6.28
              • Percent of total compensation: 9.5%
              • Annual retirement benefits: $13,062.40
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              9. Service Occupations — State and Local Government

                It can be easy to overlook a career in service occupations for state and local governments, particularly if you’re looking to earn a high annual salary. However, if you don’t factor in your potential retirement benefits, you’re not seeing the entire picture. Employers in this field kick in the fourth-highest percent of total compensation for retirement benefits of any job, meaning the real payoff of this job kicks in after retirement.

                An example of a job in this category is a recreation worker.

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                How It Pays Off

                • Annual pay: $31,260
                • Employer contribution per hour: $6.40
                • Percent of total compensation: 12.2%
                • Annual retirement benefits: $13,312
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                10. Elementary and Secondary School

                Elementary and secondary school employees don’t have to work for a state or local government to enjoy a prosperous retirement. Employers contribute a very high percentage of total compensation to retirement funds.

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                How It Pays Off

                • Annual pay: $53,120
                • Employer contribution per hour: $6.48
                • Percent of total compensation: 12.2%
                • Annual retirement benefits: $13,478.40

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                11. Public Administration

                Public administrators, like credit counselors, aren’t underpaid compared to some of the other professions on the “low-paid” list. Even without a high level of retirement benefits, workers can earn a decent living. However, the true perk is the one-two punch of a decent wage and a very high rate of employer contributions toward retirement benefits. Public administrators end up pulling down over 13% of their annual pay in the form of retirement benefits.

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                How It Pays Off

                • Annual pay: $63,253
                • Employer contribution per hour: $6.74
                • Percent of total compensation: 13.3%
                • Annual retirement benefits: $14,019.20

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                12. Elementary and Secondary School — State and Local Government

                  State and local government jobs have a reputation for being low-paying but with long-lasting benefits. Elementary and secondary school workers hired by state and local governments are no exception. The employer contribution for retirement benefits per hour is more than three times the national average, at more than 12% of total compensation. The resulting annual retirement benefits are some of the highest in the nation.

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                  How It Pays Off

                  • Annual pay: $53,120
                  • Employer contribution per hour: $6.97
                  • Percent of total compensation: 12.8%
                  • Annual retirement benefits: $14,97.60
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                  13. Special Education Teachers

                    Special education teachers work with differently-abled children and young adults on their educational journey. This includes students with learning, emotional and/or physical disabilities.  Though it’s far from raking in six figures, this profession makes the second-most of all others on this list — $11,000 more than the average annual salary of $53,893.

                    Related: Here’s How Much Teachers Make in Every State

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                    How It Pays Off

                    • Annual pay: $65,230
                    • Employer contribution per hour: $8.41
                    • Percent of total compensation: 12.9%
                    • Annual retirement benefits: $17,492.80
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                    Jobs and Retirement Benefits

                    The annual salary that you can earn in any particular job is only a portion of your total compensation. For many workers, high retirement benefits are at least as important as the annual salary earned. Although the occupations on this list aren’t among the nation’s highest-paid, the net lifetime benefits can still be high, as they are among the jobs with the best retirement benefits available.

                      Gabrielle Olya contributed to the reporting for this article.

                      Methodology: GOBankingRates analyzed data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’s March 2020 Employer Costs for Employee Compensation data and determined the best occupations for retirement benefits based on employer contribution per hour. All occupations highlighted have a higher rate of employer contribution to retirement benefits than the U.S. overall of $1.97 per hour. Data is up to date as of Sep. 15, 2020.