How Much Pay to Feel Successful?

While most Americans are unsatisfied with their salaries, there appears to be a tipping point

By Stephen Miller, CEBS August 25, 2014

  • Annual Average Salary: $113,530. Projected Growth by 2022: 10%

  • Annual Average Salary: $116,440. Projected Growth by 2022: 23%

  • Annual Average Salary: $116,670. Projected Growth by 2022: 14%

  • Annual Average Salary: $122,530. Projected Growth by 2022: 1%

  • Annual Average Salary: $130,280. Projected Growth by 2022: 26%

  • Annual Average Salary: $146,340. Projected Growth by 2022: 16%

  • Annual Average Salary: $149,310. Projected Growth by 2022: 16%

  • Annual Average Salary: $178,950. Projected Growth by 2022: 18%

  • Annual Average Salary: $187,200. Projected Growth by 2022: 18%

  • Annual Average Salary: $233,150. Projected Growth by 2022: 18%

Source: CareerCast

While a majority of Americans say they are not satisfied with their current salaries, there does appear to be a tipping point, according to a recent survey by placement firm CareerBuilder.

Overall, 65 percent of full-time U.S. workers said they do not currently earn their desired salary, while 35 percent do.

​But how much money do people need to earn to feel content with their pay? A majority of those in the $75,000 to $100,000 income range and up said they earn their desired salary. In addition, 39 percent of men say they currently earn their desired salary, compared with 30 percent of women.

“The survey supports past research suggesting that the $75,000 threshold is particularly significant, as this level allows households in most areas of the country to not only get by, but enjoy an ideal lifestyle and a secure future,” said Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources at CareerBuilder.

Salary and Career Success

Despite the fact nearly two-thirds of workers aren’t yet satisfied with their earnings, most feel they can be successful in their careers without earning large paychecks. In fact, more than half (55 percent) said they can feel successful making less than $70,000.

But while 78 percent don’t think they need to earn $100,000 or more to be successful, men are nearly two times as likely as women to need $100,000 or more (29 percent versus 15 percent).

Advanced Degrees Bring Top Pay

College graduates looking to earn at the top of the pay scale should consider seeking an advanced degree to achieve a six-figure salary, according to a new report on the highest paying jobs from CareerCast, a job search portal (see slideshow, above).

Seven of the 10 best-paying jobs in the U.S. are in the health care field and require completion of a secondary degree. Surgeon, the highest paid career with an average annual salary of $233,150, can require more than a decade of preparation, from undergraduate studies through medical school and the completion of a residency program. General practice physicians, who average $187,200 in annual salary, must also complete similar requirements.

High Salaries Offset Big Debts

"Many of these high-paycheck jobs require an extensive and specialized graduate school education," said Tony Lee, publisher at CareerCast, in a media release. "Of course, graduates seeking these incomes should have their eyes wide open and realize the trade-off can be a six-figure student loan debt."

The Association of American Medical Colleges found the Class of 2013 left with a median debt of $175,000, and 86 percent of all medical program graduates left with some educational debt, so earning a high salary initially is necessary just to repay large student loans.

Attorney is another top-paying field at $113,530 annually on average, and also requires a post-graduate degree followed by passing state bar exams.

Stressful Endeavors

Those who choose a different path to attain one of the best-paying jobs should be prepared to exchange paychecks for a high level of stress. Air traffic controllers, for example, earn $122,530 annually, but face some of the most stressful working conditions. The field requires keen attention to detail and mettle under great pressure.

High paychecks are compensation for the dedication required, the stress inherent with the job, the level of skill needed and the monetary investment required just to pursue it.

Stephen Miller, CEBS, is an online editor/manager for SHRM. Follow him on Twitter @SHRMsmiller.​


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