At Least It’s Not #1

Published on: 14:26PM Jan 14, 2009

You may have already seen a widely-circulated survey listing the best and worst jobs in America (setting aside momentarily the notion in this recession that the worst job of all is one you had, and lost).


This is a list compiled by, which is a career advice and job-hunting website.  Their takeaway:  if you work with your head, you’re lucky.  If you work with your back, you’re unfortunate.


The best jobs almost all deal with data: mathematician, actuary, statistician, biologist and software engineer were the top five.


And the worst jobs? 

Well, at least dairy farmer wasn’t dead last, but it was #199 on the list of 200.  The last was lumberjack. The other bottom feeding final five were EMT, seaman, and taxi driver.  (Perhaps fellow AgWeb blogger Leigh Rubin is correcting in suggesting today that galley slave is yet even worse!)


Obviously, all of these types of internet rankings (Best and Worst movies; Best and Worst places to live, etc.) are incredibly subjective, even when they use a certain methodology to arrive at their scores.  The reason dairy farming scored so low had to do with the combination of long hours, lots of physical work in all kinds of weather, and low pay – just $33,000 per year, on average.


And there is a kernel of truth to those caveats.  Cows do need to be milked twice, and sometimes three, times of day, every day of the year.  No vacations, no holidays.  And they’re milked in every state, from Alaska to Florida.  And farming in general, not just dairy farming, is a physically-taxing job.  A significant number of dairy farmers are forced to hang it up when knees and backs have had all the cartilage and flexibility eroded out of them by years of tough use.


That said, many farmers have employees to help with the milking and the mucking, so they can continue to manage the affairs of the farm operation without having to be involved in every milking.  Most farms are multi-generational, so the folks with younger backs can help in the parlor, while the older folks sit on the tractor or at the desk chair.


In terms of compensation, I’m not sure exactly where the $33k annual income figure came from.  Certainly, there are farms, mostly smaller dairies, that in bad years will struggle to net that kind of sum.  Heck, given the way this year is shaping up, even bigger farms that employ multiple workers may think any kind of profit would be a Godsend.  But hasn’t farming always been a boom and bust line of work?


The bottom line is that the survey is really measuring two types of individuals.  There are those that calculate and measure risks, like the aforementioned statisticians and actuaries. Then, there are those that battle the risks on a daily basis, live and in person, including dairy farmers, but also EMTs, who literally have lives in their hands, or the Paul Bunyans of the world, who have to handle heavy and unpredictable timber. 


The great thing is that, unemployment rate aside, people have choices.  Some farmers, even the poorly-compensated ones with the aching knees, would be even more miserable running spread sheets on a PC every day.  If you’re doing what you like or even love, then hopefully, it hasn’t felt like work at the end of the day, even the longest day.  To each his own.