These Jobs Come With Big Paychecks — but You’ll Have To Get Your Hands Dirty
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For many Americans, working in a sterile, clean office environment is the norm, but there can be big monetary awards for those who don’t mind working out in the field and getting their hands a little dirty.
These “dirty” jobs deal with everything from garbage to dead bodies — but they come with paychecks that could make getting a little dirt under your fingernails well worth it.
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- Median annual salary: $93,370
- Annual salary for top earners: $161,510
The median salary for construction managers is just shy of six figures, but the top 10% of earners with this job earn $161,510 or more. This fast-growing career requires you to plan, coordinate, budget and supervise construction projects.
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Electrical and Electronics Installer and Repairer
- Median annual salary: $57,890
- Annual salary for top earners: $91,840
These high-paid electrical workers inspect, test, repair and maintain electrical equipment in generating stations, substations and in-service relays. Electrical and electronics installers and repairers usually have at least a high school education, plus specialized training, apprenticeships or extra education to learn how to do the job.
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Elevator Installer and Repairer
- Median annual salary: $79,780
- Annual salary for top earners: $121,200
If you’re not claustrophobic and don’t have a fear of heights, you can make a good living as an elevator installer or repairer. It’s an odd job that pays insanely well. Getting the gig typically requires an apprenticeship rather than a higher degree, and top earners in the field make more than $121,200 a year.
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Farmer or Rancher
- Median annual salary: $67,950
- Annual salary for top earners: $136,940
Farmers and ranchers produce the crops, livestock and dairy products that feed people around the U.S. The job typically is learned through hands-on experience rather than a college degree and pays top earners in the field upward of $136,940. However, the annual salary depends on the current price of farm products, which can change with weather conditions and other factors.
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- Median annual salary: $58,680
- Annual salary for top earners: $100,800
Construction workers can become specialists in operating many pieces of equipment, and pile driver might be the most lucrative choice. These construction equipment operators drive pilings for retaining walls, bulkheads and foundations of structures, such as buildings, bridges and piers. It’s also a growing field — employment of construction equipment operators is expected to grow rapidly through 2026, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ projections.
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- Median annual salary: $63,380
- Annual salary for top earners: $106,090
It can pay well to protect the lives and property of the people in your community, and a police officer is one of the higher-paying government jobs. The top-paid police officers earn more than $106,090 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
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Power Plant Operator
- Median annual salary: $83,020
- Annual salary for top earners: $113,250
Power plant operators control the systems that generate and distribute electric power. The job typically requires a high school diploma and on-the-job training. The highest 10% of power plant operators earn more than $113,250.
- Median annual salary: $73,720
- Annual salary for top earners: $120,340
These inspectors are responsible for ensuring that cargo and people are being transported safely on trains and other vehicles. They may inspect equipment or goods as part of their job. The majority of transportation inspectors work for the local or federal government.
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- Median annual salary: $43,680
- Annual salary for top earners: $157,823
Driving a truck can entail long hours and time spent away from family and friends, but it’s a job that can earn you a healthy salary. Although the median salary is about $44,000, truck drivers who work for The Dart Network make an average of $157,823, according to Indeed job postings. A truck driver is a high-paying job without degree or experience requirements specifically, but you will need to get a commercial driver’s license as well as attend and graduate truck driving school for some jobs.
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Water Transportation Worker
- Median annual salary: $54,400
- Annual salary for top earners: $118,260
Water transportation workers are responsible for operating and maintaining ships and other vessels that transport people and goods over bodies of water. The education and training requirements vary with the type of job, but there are no educational requirements for entry-level sailors and marine oilers. The highest 10% of earners in the field make more than $118,260.
Crime Scene Investigator
- Median annual salary: $58,230
- Annual salary for top earners: $97,200
If you’re not grossed out by blood and gore, you can make good money as a crime scene investigator. These forensic scientists go to the scene of the crime to collect and analyze evidence needed for criminal investigations. You usually need to earn at least a bachelor’s degree in a natural science or forensic science to get the job, as well as to complete on-the-job training.
- Median annual salary: $52,650
- Annual salary for top earners: $89,050
Morticians do everything necessary to arrange and direct funeral services, including preparing the body for cremation or burial. Handling dead bodies might not be everyone’s dream job, but if you aren’t bothered by it, you can benefit from the high earning potential. The top 10% of morticians earn nearly $90,000 a year.
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- Median annual salary: $53,910
- Annual salary for top earners: $93,700
Plumbers are responsible for installing and repairing pipes, and they also deal with everything from septic systems to toilets. To get this dirty job, you usually need to get training through an apprenticeship, though some plumbers attend a technical school. Most states also require plumbers to be licensed.
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- Median annual salary: $40,560
- Annual salary for top earners: $112,000
Collecting garbage is probably at the top of your mind when it comes to dirty jobs, but handling trash could be worth it for the big paycheck. Depending on where you live, being a garbage collector might even be a six-figure job. For instance, garbage truck drivers in New York City can make $112,000 a year, CNN reported. And the job doesn’t require a high school degree.
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- Median annual salary: $92,250
- Annual salary for top earners: $151,030
When your job site is a mine or quarry, chances are your hands will get dirty. But if you’re working as a mining engineer, you’ll be getting paid enough to wash your dirty hands with the fanciest of hand soaps. These engineers design mines so that they can be used safely and efficiently. A bachelor’s degree typically is required for this job.
- Median annual salary: Over $208,000
- Annual salary for top earners: N/A
Gastroenterologists are internists who treat patients who have issues with their esophagus, stomach, small intestine, colon, rectum, pancreas, gallbladder, bile ducts and liver. That means they are regularly dealing with human waste. While the job requires a medical degree, plus five to six years of additional specialized training, the high salary could make the years of education worth it.
- Median annual salary: Over $208,000
- Annual salary for top earners: N/A
A proctologist, also known as a colorectal surgeon, is a surgeon who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of gastrointestinal tract diseases. As with gastroenterologists, these doctors are dealing with less-than-glamorous body parts and handling issues that can include hemorrhoids and painful bowel movements. To get this high-paying job, you’ll need a medical degree plus five to six years in residency in general surgery and an additional one to two years as a resident in the specialty.
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Wastewater Treatment Plant Operator
- Median annual salary: $46,780
- Annual salary for top earners: $76,200
Wastewater treatment plant operators are responsible for transporting and treating wastewater. Although this often is done through machines, you’ll still have to be in the presence of wastewater all day. On the plus side, the job typically only requires a high school diploma and on-the-job training, and top earners make more than $76,000 a year.
- Median annual salary: $45,040
- Annual salary for top earners: $69,900
Embalmers are responsible for preparing bodies for funeral services, burials and cremations. Job duties can include removing blood from the body and replacing it with embalming fluid, and applying makeup to make the deceased person appear peaceful. This job is definitely not everyone’s cup of tea, but top earners in the field do make a good living.
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- Median annual salary: $129,550
- Annual salary for top earners: Over $208,000
Some people are disgusted by touching people’s feet, but a podiatrist’s job demands it. These doctors give medical and surgical care to people who are dealing with foot, ankle and lower-leg problems. To become a podiatrist, you need to earn a doctor of podiatric medicine degree and complete a three-year residency program.
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Septic Tank Servicer
- Median annual salary: $41,530
- Annual salary for top earners: $61,320
Cleaning and repairing septic tanks is a dirty job, but somebody has to do it. Those who aren’t afraid to get dirty and smelly can make more than $60,000 a year if they are a top earner in the field.
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Rotary Drill Operators
- Median annual salary: $56,740
- Annual salary for top earners: $87,790
It’s hard to stay clean when working on an oil rig, especially for rotary drill operators. These professionals remove underground oil and gas using a variety of drills. Although the average annual salary overall for this job is about $57,000, it’s significantly higher in some places, such as Alaska, where the average annual wage is $74,290.
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Hazardous Materials Removal Workers
- Median annual salary: $42,030
- Annual salary for top earners: $75,840
Hazardous materials removal workers — hazmat workers, as they’re more commonly known — are responsible for disposing of hazardous waste and other dangerous materials, such as asbestos and lead. Getting this dirty job usually requires a high school diploma and on-the-job training.
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Heavy Vehicle and Mobile Equipment Service Technicians
- Median annual salary: $50,320
- Annual salary for top earners: $75,370
These service technicians handle greasy, dirty equipment all day long, and they often work in noisy repair shops. If you have the stamina and patience for the job — which typically requires a high school diploma and on-the-job training — you can make more than $75,000 per year if you’re in the top 10% of earners.
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- Median annual salary: $74,820
- Annual salary for top earners: $101,820
Mouths can be a dirty, germy place, and dental hygienists have to get up close and personal with strangers’ mouths multiple times a day. These healthcare workers clean teeth, examine patients for signs of oral diseases and provide other dental care. To get this high-paying job, you typically need to complete a three-year associate’s degree program.
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All salary data was compiled from Bureau of Labor Statistics Data on Aug. 28, 2019, unless otherwise specified.