These days, the dream of owning a home with two dogs, a gaggle of kids, and a white picket fence will cost you something fierce. In most pockets of this country, the median U.S. household income of $52,000 simply won't cut it. But you needn't enroll in law or medical school to earn a fine living. In fact, there are several high-paying jobs floating under the radar that can help you earn a desirable salary — without all those lectures on ethics and anatomy. Read on for our roundup of the top trades that pay surprisingly well.
1. Elevator Repairer
The median pay for an elevator repairer in the U.S. is $78,620, and can be as high as $110,000 in places where the job is in demand such as New York, California, Illinois, Oregon, Maine, Massachusetts, and Hawaii. While only 27 people a year die in elevator crashes — you have a better chance of getting struck by lightning — more than 10,000 people a year are injured in elevator malfunction incidents. When something goes wrong, an elevator repairer is one of the first people called on the scene for help. Even more common than injuries and deaths are cases of inconvenience: People get stuck inside elevators quite often, which is why this job is well-paid as well as important.
The job of mapping the world may seem gone with the wind, but there are actually 1,700 modern-day Alexander von Humboldts in the U.S. who track human activity, chart demographic trends, study migration patterns, and, of course, sketch and edit maps of points of interest across our planet. If you're lucky enough to secure a geographer gig — they are few and far between — the rewards are handsome. In addition to enjoying a contemporary job rooted in the age of global exploration, you'll earn a median salary of about $75,000. There's more good news: Geographer jobs have a rapid growth forecast rate of nearly 30%, which means new job opportunities are sprouting across the country.
3. Crab Fisherman
If you're looking to make fast cash, a crab fisherman's life may be for you. The dangerous work of collecting crabs from freezing, tumultuous waters is handsomely rewarded. Crab fisherman can earn $60,000 in just two to three months. If that kind of money seems worth the risk of taking on the most dangerous job in the nation, you may want to head to Alaska. Crab fishermen in the 49th state tend to be the highest earners. You do not need a high school degree for this craft, but strength and guts are all but required.
4. Crime Scene Cleaner
Crime doesn't pay. But crime cleanup certainly does. The job of cleaning up blood and shattered glass and toxic hazards takes a strong stomach, but with a few years experience you can earn upwards of $80,000. It's also not a 9-to-5 gig; you need to be ready to jump into action at a moment's notice. But there are few other occupations that can give you the thrill of feeling like you're living in an episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.
5. Landfill Gas Operator
Landfills contain tons of garbage that produce methane gas, a byproduct of the natural breakdown process. Landfill gas operators remove the gas, which can be dangerous if left unchecked. It's a stinky job — literally — but what doesn't stink is the take-home pay. You can earn as much as $148,000 by monitoring gas levels and diverting excess fumes that could become hazardous.