Retail and food service are two of the most popular forms of employment. But while these jobs are part of the backbone of the U.S. economy, they don’t necessarily come with a high pay rate. The mean annual wage for both industries is around $27,000-$35,000 per year, which is low compared to the U.S. average wage of around $60,000 per year.
Since these jobs are so popular, we’ve dug into the data and found out the states that pay the most for each type of job. This includes the average salary of retail sales workers, waiters and waitresses, and fast-food workers.
Retail Sales Workers
Retail sales workers include any person working a sales counter at department stores, electronic stores or any other retail location. The U.S. mean annual wage for retail sales workers is around $34,000 per year, but these five states pay more:
- Hourly mean wage: $19.23
- Annual mean salary: $40,000
New York pays the most for retail workers, with an average salary of around $40,000 per year. While this is a $6,000 increase over the average worker, New York is a much more expensive place to live than most parts of the country.
- Hourly mean wage: $19.14
- Annual mean salary: $39,810
Washington D.C. pays retail workers nearly as much as New York, with the average salary coming in just under $40,000 per year. Another high-cost-of-living location, $40,000 in D.C. doesn’t necessarily mean you can make a living there.
- Hourly mean wage: $19.06
- Annual mean salary: $39,650
California also pays retail workers just under $40,000 per year, but with high state taxes and real estate costs, this won’t get you very far. Of course, some counties will pay higher than others, so the pay may be higher or lower, depending on your California ZIP code.
- Hourly mean wage: $19.05
- Annual mean salary: $39,630
Washington State pays retail workers pretty well, with a mean annual salary of over $39,000. It’s expensive to live near Seattle and other big cities in Washington, but your dollars might stretch further as you get farther into the suburbs and country areas.
- Hourly mean wage: $18.97
- Annual mean salary: $39,460
Vermont is a high-cost-of-living state that pays retail workers just over $39,000 per year. This is better than other states, but low for the cost of housing and other expenses in the state of Vermont.
Waiters and Waitresses
Food services workers make up a large chunk of the workforce, with waiters and waitresses occupying over 2.1 million jobs. The pay isn’t the best, with a mean annual salary of around $33,000 per year. But some states pay much higher. Here are the five highest-paying states for waiters and waitresses:
- Hourly mean wage: $24.42
- Annual mean salary: $50,790
While it’s a high-cost-of-living area, Washington D.C. does pay waiters and waitresses fairly well. The mean annual salary is over $50,000, which is nearly $25 an hour. This is almost 35% higher than the average salary for this position nationwide.
- Hourly mean wage: $22.91
- Annual mean salary: $47,640
New York has a lot of fancy restaurants as well as some affordable ones as well. The annual mean salary for waiters and waitresses in New York is just over $47,000 per year. This is about $14,000 higher than average on an annual basis, but the high cost to live in New York might not be worth it.
- Hourly mean wage: $22.31
- Annual mean salary: $46,400
Washington State pays over $46,000 per year for waiter and waitress jobs, which is over $22 an hour on average. This is a good pay rate depending on where you live in the state. Housing and other costs in Seattle are high, but further outside of town, costs are more reasonable, and $46,000 goes much further.
- Hourly mean wage: $21.86
- Annual mean salary: $45,460
Arizona is a low-cost-of-living state that also pays well for waiter and waitress positions. With an annual salary of over $45,000 per year, you can live fairly well, depending on where you live in the state.
- Hourly mean wage: $21.13
- Annual mean salary: $43,950
Vermont pays just under $44,000 a year for waiter and waitress positions, which is much higher than the national average. But the state is more expensive to live in than many other states too, so it might not feel like a great income when living there.
Fast-Food and Counter Workers
Fast-food workers keep your food fresh and hot and get it to you quickly, but the pay isn’t too great. Nationally, the average fast-food worker earns about $28,000 per year, which is only about $13.50 per hour. But some states pay a bit more.
Here are the top five states that pay the highest for fast-food workers:
- Hourly mean wage: $17.33
- Annual mean salary: $36,040
Washington D.C. pays over $36,000 per year, or around $17 an hour for fast-food workers, which is higher than the national average. But it’s not enough to live on in this very high-cost-of-living area.
- Hourly mean wage: $16.81
- Annual mean salary: $34,960
Washington State pays almost $35,000 per year for fast-food workers, which is only slightly above the state minimum wage (which is currently $15.74 per hour). This is good pay for the work, but not much better than any other minimum-wage job in the state.
- Hourly mean wage: $16.60
- Annual mean salary: $34,530
It costs a lot to live in California, which is probably why fast-food workers make over $16.50 an hour on average. While this is better than the national average pay, it’s not much in most cities in California.
- Hourly mean wage: $16.12
- Annual mean salary: $33,520
Massachusetts pays fast-food workers around $33,500 per year, which equates to around $16 an hour. This is better than some states, but Massachusetts has the second-highest cost of living in the country.
- Hourly mean wage: $16.04
- Annual mean salary: $33,370
New York pays fast-food workers around $16 an hour, which is slightly higher than the state minimum wage of $14.20 an hour. This pay isn’t great considering the very high cost of living.
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