With the latest unemployment data showing 85,000 more people unemployed, it's no wonder Wall Street bonuses are being met with disdain. But Wall Street isn't the only opportunity to find lucrative employment and make more money than some people think is fair.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics' National Occupational Employment and Wage estimates shows the mean annual wages for over 800 occupations. Parsing through the data shows wages for many occupational categories that a lot of people would think provide too little bang for those serious bucks.

A Matter of Perspective?
Of course, what's fair to one person won't be fair to another. But if the definition of overpaid means that there are others that would do the same quality work for lower wages, then there is a criteria for judging overpaid occupations.

Also, it should be noted that many of these jobs are referred to as "credence goods". A credence good (or service) is an economics term for a good in which the value is difficult or impossible for the consumer to determine. This holds true even after consuming the good or service. And many of them take roots in another economic concept called Veblen goods. This is a good or service where one's preference for buying increases with price. For example, no wants to hire the cheap brain surgeon when going under the knife.

Applying these concepts to employment and the debate about the fair value of one's work, the following occupations could be considered overpaid.

The Overpaid

  • Chief Executive Officer ($160,440) – Executive pay creates harsh feelings in many people. When the leader of a company does his or her job really well, most people feel they deserve significant amounts of money, especially if it comes in the form of stock that needs to rise in value for it to pay off. But the dismal performance of most CEOs and their stunning pay packages define the argument for pay-for-performance. It seems that in many cases, CEOs get paid regardless of performance.Could someone else have done the work just as well? One would think that most senior executives would be able to step up a notch, or at least think they can. Can you really tell how well a CEO has done, even a year later? How many CEOs have had huge pay days only to have the firm go bankrupt the next year? Most critics would agree: there are lots of overpaid people here. (Learn more about CEOs in The Basics Of Corporate Structure.)
  • Lawyer ($124,750) – Much like CEOs, a great lawyer commands a great wage. However, even mediocre lawyers still command high wages. One might think it's related to the barriers to entry of high-priced law schools and passing the bar, but the supply of lawyers seems to be plentiful. Lawyers are an example of a Veblen good. A cheap lawyer is perceived to be inferior, so even inferior lawyers charge high prices.
  • Political Scientist ($99,320) – This occupation includes those that conduct polls and analyze election results. So, this profession is mostly funded by campaign contributions and hired by politicians trying to win elections, or by special interest groups promoting a ballot measure. While those involved in the campaigns themselves probably feel that a good political scientist is hard to find and worth every penny, the more casual follower of politics could come to the conclusion that a good political scientist has yet to be found - given the quality of politicians that they get elected.
  • Athlete ($79,460) – While this number may look small compared to the superstars' salaries reported in the paper, it's still quite a bit considering those who are willing and able to replace the average athlete. Those who can succeed at the very top level generate significant income for the business and deserve to get paid more because of that.A good example of this is Tiger Woods. When he is in a tournament, there are 50% more television viewers than when he is not. He is the show and gets paid handsomely for it; however, one could make an argument that the rest of the field is overpaid and getting a free ride on his coat tails. However, in light of certain recent events in Woods' personal life, some of that might change.
  • Economist ($90,830) – It was once said that you could put all of the economists in the world end to end and still not reach a conclusion. If they don't provide useful information upon which decisions can be based, why do they make so much money? Isn't there someone willing to provide a best guess about what's going to happen in the economy for less money? And even when they do get it right, how do we know that it wasn't just luck? (Learn more in Why Can't Economists Agree?)

Bottom Line
To turn this around and benefit from it, consider your own career and think of where you can provide something where the results can't be directly measured - even after you have provided them - and where it's generally thought that high prices mean better quality. Then you too can find an overpaid job!

Related Articles
  1. Professionals

    What Accounts for One-Third of the Wage Gap

    Women who work full time still make less than men who have the same qualifications. One third of the pay gap may be due to gender bias and discrimination.
  2. Investing

    How Aliko Dangote Became the Richest African

    An overview of how Aliko Dangote turned a local commodities trading business into a billion-dollar conglomerate.
  3. Investing News

    Austin Set to Rival Silicon Valley

    Over the years, Austin, Texas has lovingly embraced its quirky reputation with the slogan “Keep Austin Weird.” Today, the capital city is attracting several tech startups and investors, making ...
  4. Entrepreneurship

    Top 3 Most Successful Korean Entrepreneurs

    Discover the backgrounds of some of the most successful Korean entrepreneurs and information about the companies and projects leading to their success.
  5. Entrepreneurship

    Top 5 Most Successful Swedish Entrepreneurs

    Understand what makes Sweden a great place for entrepreneurship. Learn about five successful Swedish entrepreneurs who are making big impacts.
  6. Entrepreneurship

    Top 3 Most Successful African Entrepreneurs

    Discover the educational backgrounds and entrepreneurial ventures of some of the most successful and well-known African entrepreneurs.
  7. Investing

    Essential Tips on Making Your Hobby Your Career

    Here are some ways to turn what you love to do for fun into your job.
  8. Entrepreneurship

    Top 5 Most Successful Mexican Entrepreneurs

    Understand why so many socially conscious entrepreneurs have come out of Mexico. Learn about the top most successful Mexican entrepreneurs.
  9. Investing

    Oprah Winfrey Biography

    Oprah Gail Winfrey is an American media magnate, television and film producer, and talk show host with a net worth of roughly $3 billion.
  10. Entrepreneurship

    Want to Open a Small Business? Beware of These

    While all small businesses face long odds, these four types are even less likely to succeed.
  1. Does working capital include salaries?

    A company accrues unpaid salaries on its balance sheet as part of accounts payable, which is a current liability account, ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. Do financial advisors need to meet quotas?

    Most financial advisors are required to meet quotas, particularly if they work for firms that pay base salaries or draws ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. Can I buy insurance to reduce unlimited liability in a partnership?

    Partnership insurance is actually quite common. Most of the time, partners buy insurance to safeguard against the possibility ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. What is the difference between AGI (adjusted gross income) and gross income?

    In the United States, individuals pay taxes based on their adjusted gross income, or AGI, rather than their gross income. ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. What are the benefits of prorating expenses?

    When a person prorates expenses between personal and business expenses, he is able to capture the maximum amount of tax benefits ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. Does my employer's matching contribution count towards the maximum I can contribute ...

    Contributions to 401(k) plans come from employee salary deferral and employer match dollars. According to the IRS, employees ... Read Full Answer >>

You May Also Like

Trading Center
You are using adblocking software

Want access to all of Investopedia? Add us to your “whitelist”
so you'll never miss a feature!