The U.S. economy has become decidedly stagnant in recent weeks, as particularly slow growth during the second financial quarter has stalled job creation and facilitated a rise in unemployment. With 8.2% of the U.S. population now without a job, and in the light of conservative growth estimates for the remainder of 2012, the majority of citizens are braced for a period of sustained austerity.

SEE: The Unemployment Rate: Get Real

The outlook for the U.S. economy isn't entirely bleak, however, as various industries such as healthcare have actually displayed significant growth over the last 12 months. Not only this, but there are a plethora of other jobs and careers that remain viable options for employment in 2012, each of which offer an opportunity for long-term prosperity and surprisingly high annual salaries. While it may be no secret that surgeons and leading commercial CEOs earn substantial annual salaries, there are a range of lower-profile career choices that offer surprisingly high levels of remuneration.

Sewer Cleaners
Those who work within the wider cleaning industry are often undervalued, especially when you consider the diversity of tasks performed and their importance. For example, in 2009 commissioned a report into evaluating the social capital generated by specific U.K. jobs in relation to the respective salaries of employees. The results of this study found that while hospital cleaners were often rewarded for their efforts with around minimum wage, the individual tasks that they performed generated a staggering 10 British Pounds of social value for every pound that they earned directly. With this in mind, it may comes as something of a surprise that sewer and drainage cleaners buck this trend, offering a starting wage of about US$34,960 and higher salaries of up to $61,000 for skilled operatives.

Toll Booth Collectors
There are some jobs that carry a far greater degree of danger than others, although this is not necessarily reflected either in their typical salary or the level of respect that employees receive. One demographic of workers that remain impervious to this trend is toll booth collectors, who are often forced to work unsociable hours handling vast sums of money in exchange for a respectable average annual salary of roughly $45,000 per annum. Usually union employees have access to excellent employment benefits and overtime pay. Toll booth collectors receive a level of financial reward that at least partially reflects the risks of the job that they undertake.

Lab Rats for Medical Research
Across the globe, there is a common misconception that clinical trials are unpredictable and pose a significant danger to those who volunteer to take part. Although this perception is gradually beginning to change in the light of the advancements made in medical science, many still believe that clinical trials offer inadequate financial reward to individuals who volunteer as test subjects. The fact remains that independent laboratories and research centers offer significant sums of money to potential contributors on a daily basis, with the result that regular participants can earn up to $3,000 per month. This is in addition to the satisfaction brought by playing a key role in the development of potentially life saving treatments for disease and illness.

Elevator Mechanics
While mechanics are not typically associated with six-figure salaries or being especially well paid, they operate in a diverse and specialized industry that rewards some technicians more than others. For example, elevator mechanics in the U.S. earn an average annual salary of more than $70,000, while those within the top 10% of workers can claim a staggering yearly wage of approximately $109,000. Part of the reason for this sizable salary is the unique technology applied in elevators, while workers in this niche are also less affected by economic downturns due to the fact that the primary demand is for repair and maintenance work. The BLS also reports that elevator mechanics belong to an established union, which ensures good healthcare benefits and holiday pay for employees.

SEE: 8 Careers That Pay Less Than You Think

The Bottom Line
Not only do these jobs prove the value of researching career options and learning about specific industries before making a commitment, but they also support the notion that a recession does not necessarily sound the death knell for all economic growth and the potential for job creation. With this in mind, now is the ideal time to consider your immediate and long-term career plans, and embrace a number of opportunities that may not appear viable at first glance.

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