Retail salespersons, cashiers, general office clerks, combined food preparation and serving workers, and registered nurses were among the occupations with the highest employment in 2009, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on May 14. Occupations with the lowest employment included watch repairers, astronomers and radio operators. Employment and wage information for all occupations is shown in Table 1 of the BLS’s news release (

This data is from the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program, which provides employment and wage estimates for wage and salary workers in 22 major occupational groups and 801 detailed occupations. OES produces data by occupation for the nation, states, metropolitan areas, metropolitan divisions, and non-metropolitan areas, and by occupation and industry for the nation.

In addition to the occupations mentioned above, the largest occupations included customer service representatives; elementary school teachers, except special education; and general maintenance and repair workers. Occupations with employment of more than 700,000 in 2009 are shown in Table 4. These occupations accounted for 46 percent of total U.S. employment, with the 10 largest occupations representing more than 20 percent of total employment. Occupations with employment of 4,000 or less are shown in Table 5. These occupations, which included historians, gaming managers, and motorboat operators, represented less than 0.1 percent of total U.S. employment.

While some of the largest occupations were concentrated in specific industries, others were more widely distributed across industries. For example, although 80 percent of teacher assistants worked in elementary and secondary schools, the largest employer of general office clerks – local government – employed only about 7 percent of this occupation.

Most of the largest occupations were relatively low paying. Thirty of the 40 occupations in Table 4 had average wages below the U.S. mean of $20.90 per hour, or $43,460 annually. These occupations included cashiers, with an hourly mean wage of $9.15, and combined food preparation and serving workers ($8.71); both also were among the lowest paying occupations overall. Large occupations with above average wages included general and operations managers ($53.15); registered nurses ($31.99); and sales representatives, wholesale and manufacturing, except technical and scientific products ($29.52).

In contrast, the small occupations in Table 5 included a more even mix of high- and low-paying occupations. Nineteen of these 42 occupations had wages above the U.S. average, including commercial divers ($27.91), agricultural engineers ($35.89), and industrial-organizational psychologists ($49.31). Seventeen occupations had below average wages, including segmental pavers ($13.81) and dredge operators ($18.43). The remaining six occupations had wages similar to the U.S. average.

Major Occupational Group Employment and Wages
More than half of the 40 largest occupations were in four occupational groups: food preparation and serving, sales, office and administrative support, or transportation and material moving. Nine office and administrative support occupations, with combined employment of about 14.9 million, appear in Table 4, making office and administrative support the group with both the largest number of occupations in the table and the highest total employment in those occupations. Five food preparation and serving related occupations appear in the table, with combined employment of approximately 7.5 million. Although only four of the 40 largest occupations were in the sales group, combined employment in these four occupations was more than 10.2 million, reflecting in part the high employment levels for retail salespersons (4.2 million) and cashiers (3.4 million). Office and administrative support and sales and related were also the 2 largest occupational groups overall, with total employment of 22.3 million and 13.7 million, respectively.

Many of the small occupations in Table 5 were specialized installation, maintenance and repair; production; or transportation and material moving occupations, such as refractory materials repairers, wood model makers and shuttle car operators. Though these occupational groups also included some of the largest occupations, such as team assemblers and construction laborers, these large occupations tended to involve more general job duties than those listed in Table 5. Ten of the 42 smallest occupations were in the computer and mathematical science; architecture and engineering; and life, physical, and social science groups. These occupations included mathematicians, political scientists and agricultural engineers. Life, physical and social science was also one of the smallest occupational groups overall, along with arts, design, entertainment, sports and media; legal; and farming, fishing and forestry occupations.

The occupational groups with the highest mean hourly wages included management occupations ($49.47), legal occupations ($46.07), and computer and mathematical science occupations ($36.68). Among the lowest-paying occupational groups were food preparation and serving related occupations ($10.04); farming, fishing and forestry occupations ($11.53); personal care and service occupations ($11.87); and building and grounds cleaning and maintenance occupations ($12.00).

While some occupational groups were highly concentrated in specific industry sectors, others were distributed more evenly across sectors. For example, nearly 89 percent of employment in education, training, and library occupations was found in the educational services sector, and about 88 percent of employment in healthcare support occupations was found in the health care and social assistance sector. In contrast, although retail trade, finance and insurance, and health care and social assistance were among the largest employers of office and administrative support occupations, no single sector employed more than 12.3 percent of this group.

Detailed Occupational Employment and Wages by Detailed Industry
In addition to the occupational group and industry sector data, OES data is available for detailed occupations and industries. For example, Table 6 shows employment and wages by industry for laborers and hand freight, stock and material movers. Employment in this occupation was widely distributed across industries. The employment services industry, which includes temporary help services, employed the highest number of laborers and hand freight, stock and material movers, but less than 14 percent of this occupation was employed in this industry. Other large employers of this occupation were warehousing and storage; other general merchandise stores, which include warehouse clubs and supercenters; grocery and related product merchant wholesalers; and general freight trucking, each representing less than 7 percent of employment in this occupation. The mean hourly wage for laborers and hand freight, stock and material movers in these industries ranged from $9.29 in other general merchandise stores to $13.78 in general freight trucking.

Although employment services employed a relatively small percentage of all laborers and hand freight, stock, and material movers, it was the largest occupation in the employment services industry, representing about 11 percent of industry employment. Most of the largest occupations in this industry were also among the largest occupations overall, including registered nurses; customer service representatives; secretaries, except legal, medical and executive; general office clerks; construction laborers; team assemblers; and hand packers and packagers. Of the occupations in Table 7, employment, recruitment and placement specialists had the lowest national employment across all industries and was the most concentrated in employment services: of the 198,000 jobs in this occupation, nearly 39 percent were found in this industry.

Most of the largest occupations in the employment services industry had wages below the U.S. average. The exceptions were registered nurses and employment, recruitment, and placement specialists, which had mean hourly wages in this industry of $33.71 and $25.61, respectively.

Occupational Employment and Wages by State and Area
OES data also allows comparison of occupational employment and wages across states and metropolitan areas. Tables 8 and 9 show the states and metropolitan areas with the highest employment and highest employment concentrations of four selected detailed occupations. Areas with high total employment also tend to be among the largest employers of any individual occupation, while employment concentrations reflect factors other than overall employment levels, such as the industry mix. For example, California employed more janitors than any other state, with 199,070 jobs in this occupation; and Nevada, although it employed fewer total janitors than California, had one of the highest employment concentrations in this occupation, with janitors representing over 24 jobs out of every 1,000 in the state. The District of Columbia and Hawaii also had among the highest concentrations of janitors, while New York had both one of the highest employment levels and one of the highest employment concentrations of this occupation.

California, Texas and New York, which were among the largest employers of several of the selected occupations, were also the three largest states in terms of total employment. On the other hand, Indiana was one of the largest employers of team assemblers primarily because of its high employment concentration in this occupation: total employment in Indiana was approximately one-fifth of that in California, but its employment concentration of 20.3 team assemblers per 1,000 jobs was more than three times as high as in California. New York, Ohio and North Carolina had both high employment levels and high employment concentrations of home health aides, while several Southern states had among the highest employment concentrations of cashiers.

Although all of the selected occupations in table 8 had national mean wages below the U.S. average, wages for each occupation varied across states. For example, among the states shown in the table, mean wages for janitors varied from $9.79 in Texas to $13.51 in New York, and mean wages for cashiers varied from $8.03 in Louisiana to $10.85 in California.

At the metropolitan area level, as at the state level, areas with high employment of the selected occupations also tended to have high overall employment levels. Chicago-Naperville-Joliet, Ill., and Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, Texas, were among the areas with the highest employment of all of the selected occupations, while New York-White Plains-Wayne, N.Y.-N.J., and Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale, Calif., were among the areas with the highest employment of three out of the four occupations. These were also among the largest metropolitan areas or metropolitan divisions in the United States in terms of total employment.