13 Low-Paying Jobs That Actually Pay Off in Retirement

Not every job can command a six-figure salary, or make you a millionaire before you retire. In fact, many occupations that workers regard as personally fulfilling are among the lowest-paying jobs. The good news is that even low-paying jobs can pay off in the long run with high retirement benefits, thanks to generous contributions from certain employers.
GOBankingRates examined various lower-paying occupations to determine the best ones for retirement benefits based on employer contribution per hour. Here’s a look at 13 jobs with above-average retirement benefits despite paying a low salary.
two men moving boxes in a warehouse.
xavierarnau / Getty Images

1. 13. Transportation & Warehousing

    • Annual pay: $46,010
    • Percent of total compensation: 6.6%
    • Annual retirement benefits: $5,512
    Transportation and warehousing is a fundamental occupation for many industries. Although workers earn more than the minimum wage, pay overall is still low.
    However, employers contribute about 36 percent more than the national average to the retirement benefits of transportation and warehousing workers. This results in a decent retirement benefit for a lower-wage job.
    Group of architects planning on construction site.
    AzmanL / Getty Images

    2. 12. Construction

      • Annual pay: $63,336
      • Percent of total compensation: 7.2%
      • Annual retirement benefits: $5,554
      Construction workers put in a hard day’s work for a hard day’s pay. Retirement benefits aren’t among the highest in the country, but the employer contribution per hour on behalf of employees is still much higher than the national average.
      Businessman is presenting new project to partners in the office.
      EmirMemedovski / Getty Images

      3. 11. Sales and Related Occupations — State and Local Governments

        • Annual pay: $26,555
        • Percent of total compensation: 10.5%
        • Annual retirement benefits: $7,571
        Sales is known as a field where workers can make a lot of money, and in some industries, the sky truly is the limit. However, if you work in sales and related occupations for a state or local government, you might be disappointed to learn that the average annual pay is among the lowest of any occupation. The good news is that as with most government work, your employer will kick in quite a bit towards your retirement, leaving you with a high level of annual retirement benefits for your annual wage.
        Businessman talking on mobile phone and looking down with smile pointing at business papers.
        jacoblund / Getty Images/iStockphoto

        4. 10. Office and Administrative Support Occupations — State and Local Government

          • Annual pay: $35,200
          • Percent of total compensation: 10.5%
          • Annual retirement benefits: $7,634
            Office and administrative support occupations are generally not high paying. This is particularly true when the employer is a state or local government. The tradeoff is enhanced retirement benefits. State and local governments provide nearly double the average national employer contribution towards retirement benefits of $1.95 per hour for their office and administrative workers.
            Friendly female doctor visiting senior couple at retirement home.
            Dean Mitchell / Getty Images

            5. 9. Healthcare and Social Assistance — State and Local Government

              • Annual pay: $30,275
              • Percent of total compensation: 8.7%
              • Annual retirement benefits: $7,987
              As with other state and local government workers, those in the field of healthcare and social assistance draw a salary that’s just barely over the minimum wage of $15 per hour offered in some states. However, government employers sock away $3.84 per hour in retirement benefits for healthcare and social assistance workers, nearly double the national average for all employers.
              Businesswoman holding a tablet and reading a document in office.
              Wavebreakmedia / Getty Images/iStockphoto

              6. 8. Service Occupations — State and Local Government

                • Annual pay: $28,585
                • Percent of total compensation: 12.8%
                • Annual retirement benefits: $9,797
                It can be easy to overlook a career in service occupations for state and local governments, particularly if you’re looking to earn a high annual salary. However, if you don’t factor in your potential retirement benefits, you’re not seeing the entire picture. Employers in this field kick in the highest percentage of total compensation for retirement benefits of any job, meaning the real payoff of this job kicks in after retirement.
                Male aircraft engineer in the hangar repairing and maintaining private jet airplane.
                EXTREME-PHOTOGRAPHER / Getty Images/iStockphoto

                7. 7. Aircraft Manufacturing

                • Annual pay: $54,480
                • Percent of total compensation: 7.3%
                • Annual retirement benefits: $10,670
                Aircraft manufacturing can be an exciting industry, but it’s not among the country’s highest-paid professions. Though wages are moderate, the real payoff for these workers comes in retirement. The average annual retirement benefit is nearly 20% of an aircraft manufacturing worker’s annual pay, thanks to a per-hour employer retirement contribution that’s more than 2.6 times the national average.
                Pupil writing on the board at elementary school maths class.
                monkeybusinessimages / Getty Images/iStockphoto

                8. 6. Elementary School

                • Annual pay: $69,659
                • Percent of total compensation: 11.6%
                • Annual retirement benefits: $12,230
                Elementary school employees don’t have to work for a state or local government to enjoy a prosperous retirement. In fact, non-governmental elementary school workers earn more in annual pay than their state and local governmental colleagues, and their annual retirement benefits are only slightly smaller. Employers contribute a very high percentage of total compensation.
                Pressmaster / Shutterstock.com

                9. 5. Public Administration

                • Annual pay: $62,608
                • Percent of total compensation: 12.8%
                • Annual retirement benefits: $12,834
                Public administrators aren’t underpaid compared to some of the other professions on the “low-paid” list. Even without a high level of retirement benefits, workers can earn a decent living. However, the true perk is the one-two punch of a decent wage and a very high rate of employer contributions toward retirement benefits. Public administrators end up pulling down over 20% of their annual pay in the form of retirement benefits.
                Shot of a young teacher educating a group of elementary children.
                gradyreese / Getty Images

                10. 4. Elementary School — State and Local Government

                  • Annual pay: $62,280
                  • Percent of total compensation: 12.3%
                  • Annual retirement benefits: $13,354
                  State and local government jobs have a reputation for being low-paying but with long-lasting benefits. Elementary school workers hired by state and local governments are no exception. The employer contribution for retirement benefits per hour is more than three times the national average, at more than 12% of total compensation. The resulting annual retirement benefits are some of the highest in the nation.
                  Young female maintenance engineer testing voltage.
                  aydinmutlu / iStock.com

                  11. 3. Utilities

                  • Annual pay: $76,731
                  • Percent of total compensation: 10.4%
                  • Annual retirement benefits: $13,562
                  Compared to some of the other professions on this list, utility workers aren’t exactly “low-paid,” with annual earnings approaching $80,000. In spite of that relatively high wage, utility workers also enjoy high annual retirement benefits. This is helped by 10.4% of total compensation that employers kick into utility workers’ retirement benefits. While making a decent wage is a good work payoff, utility workers can look forward to a good retirement as well.
                  Cute schoolboy in eyeglasses answering questions of teacher at individual lesson.
                  shironosov / Getty Images/iStockphoto

                  12. 2. Special Education Teachers

                  • Annual pay: $59,980
                  • Percent of total compensation: 12.2%
                  • Annual retirement benefits: $15,766
                  Special education teachers work in a highly satisfying profession that continues to grow in opportunity year after year. Although the annual pay is moderate, employers pay over 12% of total compensation towards retirement benefits. This combination of middle-tier pay and high employment contributions results in high relative annual retirement benefits.
                  Point of view angle of teenage girls studying robotic arm in school.
                  SolStock / Getty Images

                  13. 1. Teachers — State and Local Government

                  • Annual pay: $58,700
                  • Percent of total compensation: 12.1%
                  • Annual retirement benefits: $16,640
                  Teachers are notoriously underpaid. Considering the hard work they put in and the expenses that often come out of their own pockets, their annual pay can be quite low overall. The good news is that there is light at the end of the tunnel. With state and local governments kicking in a high percentage of compensation towards retirement benefits, teachers enjoy the highest annual retirement benefits of any profession on the list.
                  Portrait of bearded expert explaining construction details to workmen, making measurements as they go, all wearing reflective orange vests and hard hats.
                  shironosov / Getty Images/iStockphoto

                  14. Conclusion

                  The annual salary that you can earn in any particular job is only a portion of your total compensation. For many workers, high retirement benefits are at least as important as the annual salary earned. Although the occupations on this list aren’t among the nation’s highest-paid, the net lifetime benefits can still be high, as they are among the jobs with the best retirement benefits available.

                    Data is accurate as of July 26, 2019, and is subject to change.
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