17 Stressful Jobs With Disproportionately Low Pay

Navigating the modern job market can be a real challenge when trying to find a career you'll love that also pays a decent salary. There are many jobs that come with high-stress levels and a low income. A group of working-class forum members expressed their discontent with some of the more common roles that cause burnout while offering relatively modest paychecks.

If you're looking for work, you may consider skipping these jobs with disproportionate stress levels and pay.

1. EMT

A team of EMTs help a firefighter injured in the line of service
Image Credit: Scott L from Los Angeles, United States of America, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

You know the people who typically arrive at an emergency situation first? The ones that cart the severely sick and grievously injured to the hospital for proper care? Believe it or not, their annual salary hovers around some of the higher minimum wage figures in the United States. As one forum member recalls, when they attended the required EMT class, an instructor admitted that their girlfriend made more money at Rent-A-Center.

2. Veterinarian

Woman cutting cats nails, Veterinarian, pet groomer
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We all love our four-legged family members, so it should appall us a little that veterinarians aren’t paid proportionately for the services they provide. In fact, the 2022 National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America demographic survey found that 39% of respondents found low pay to be the most challenging part of their career choice. A 2019 study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association also found that nearly 80% of vets suffer from clinical depression.

3. Retail Sales Associate

a woman compares products
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A retail sales associate hovers around the local minimum wage, with infrequent incremental increases often based on performance. Now, why is it stressful? Well, imagine dealing with all kinds of customers, some of them not-so-friendly, standing on your feet for hours, and trying to meet sales goals and other unreasonable metrics – all while handling inventory and multitasking. It's a lot to handle for the pay it offers.

4. Fast Food Worker

fast food bill
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A fast food worker usually earns the local minimum wage, sometimes a dollar or two more depending on the city and location. Picture a fast-paced environment, demanding customers, long shifts on your feet, no benefits, no union representation, crazy schedules, and more. The pressure to serve quickly and efficiently while dealing with a mad rush of hungry customers can undoubtedly make it a high-stress job for the pay.

5. Teacher

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Teaching is undoubtedly a rewarding profession, but it comes with its own set of challenges that can be incredibly stressful. Teachers are responsible for shaping young minds, managing classrooms, dealing with various learning needs, and often facing tight budgets and administrative demands. Despite these challenges, teachers typically receive moderate annual pay that they must then dip into to buy classroom supplies. Teachers also face long hours that extend to well after school ends for grading and planning. 

6. Home Health Aide

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Being a home health aide is a demanding role that involves providing essential care to individuals who need assistance with daily tasks due to illness or age-related issues. This profession is emotionally and physically taxing, as it requires compassion and patience, and often involves lifting and personal care tasks. You're cleaning substances like blood, urine, feces, vomit, and more on a regular basis. Home health aides play a vital role in improving the quality of life for their clients but face substantial stress due to the nature of the job.

7. Janitor or Custodian

Man fixing shower
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Janitors and custodians are the unsung heroes who keep our buildings clean and functional. On average, their pay is pretty similar to that of fast food workers. This crucial job involves physically demanding tasks, such as cleaning, lifting, and maintaining facilities, often in challenging conditions. Despite the essential nature of their work, these workers receive lower wages, making it a taxing profession both physically and financially.

8. Childcare Worker

Mother performing puppet show for her daughter at home
Image Credit: New Africa and Shutterstock.

Childcare workers play a crucial role in nurturing and educating our youngest generation, but the pay doesn't really reflect the importance of their job. Caring for children demands boundless patience, constant attention, and the ability to handle diverse needs and behaviors. It's a rewarding yet demanding career choice that often falls short in terms of financial compensation.

9. Call Center Representative

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Image Credit: Shutterstock.

Call center representatives are at the frontlines of customer service, with the average salary barely scraping beyond liveable. The stress levels in this role can be severe, as representatives handle a constant influx of calls, often from frustrated or irate customers. Meeting quotas and adhering to strict scripts can add to the pressure, making it a challenging profession despite the moderate pay.

10. Security Guard

Security Guard
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You want the person responsible for maintaining security and handling emergencies to be well compensated. For most security personnel, that's not the case. The constant need for vigilance, potential confrontations, and the expectation of always being alert, often during unconventional hours, make it a demanding and sometimes underappreciated profession.

11. Food Server or Waitstaff

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Working as a food server or waitstaff is one of the lowest-paying jobs out there. It involves taking orders, serving food, and attending to diners' needs, all while maintaining a pleasant demeanor. On average, waiters and waitresses get very low wages, with salaries often relying heavily on tips. The stress comes from the fast-paced environment, multitasking, dealing with challenging customers, and the uncertainty of tip-based income.

12. Farmworker or Laborer

young farmer with freshly picked vegetables in basket
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Farmworkers and laborers play a vital role in food production, yet their average wages are often meager and no better than that of a retail associate. The stress in this profession arises from physically demanding work, exposure to the elements, and uncertain seasonal employment. These dedicated workers toil tirelessly to harvest crops and maintain farms despite the challenges and lower wages they frequently face.

13. Garbage Collector

plastic bottle garbage for recycling concept reuse
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Garbage collectors provide an essential service by keeping our communities clean, but their average earnings may not reflect the significance of their work. It can cause stress to be exposed to harsh weather conditions, always having to adhere to tight schedules, being around potentially harmful substances and terrible smells, working long hours, and so on. Garbage collectors often operate under challenging circumstances to maintain sanitation in our cities.

14. Maids

woman cleaning
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Housekeepers are the unsung heroes of the hospitality industry, ensuring that hotels and homes stay clean and welcoming. Their wages can be very low, especially outside of tourist cities. It's a stressful job that requires constant cleaning, bending, and long hours at various times of the year. Unfortunately, it can be a thankless job that doesn't have opportunities for advancement, nor does it offer a salary that one can truly live off of. 

15. Dishwasher

teens dishwashing
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Dishwashers, often at the bottom of the restaurant hierarchy, earn really low wages. The stress in this role comes from the fast-paced, high-pressure environment of commercial kitchens. Dishwashers are responsible for cleaning countless dishes and utensils quickly, often working long hours with limited breaks. Having performed this job before, I can say it is truly a tiring position that leaves you drained day in and day out.

16. Social Worker 

Couple In Counselling
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Social workers are tasked with helping individuals and families in need, but the emotional toll can be heavy. Though their pay is relatively higher than other professions on this list, it's all relative. Social workers have a very high burnout rate due to the stress from dealing with complex cases, addressing societal issues, and sometimes facing difficult client situations. Despite the vital work they do, social workers face very high caseloads and limited resources. 

17. Entry-Level Healthcare Assistant

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These healthcare professionals provide essential support to nurses and doctors and do so with not even a fraction of their salary. The stress in this role comes from the fast-paced hospital environment, dealing with patient needs, and often working long shifts. While they play a crucial part in patient care, entry-level healthcare assistants receive modest compensation for their work. 

Source: Reddit