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By John W. Schoen Senior Producer
msnbc.com

Q: I was trying to find information on annual income for the U.S. population. How many people working in the United States of America gross $25,000? Is that information available for a national standard, or is it broken down state, by state?— Kathy R., Kansas City, Mo.

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A: You can get these numbers sliced and diced just about any way you want, thanks to the hard-working — and probably underpaid — folks at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Their Web siteis a marvel of statistical minutiae — good for everything from settling bar bets to asking your boss for a raise.

According to the bureau’s July 2002 survey(the latest comprehensive data available), the average salary of a U.S. worker was $17.18 an hour, and that worker put in 35.8 hours a week on the job. So, if my calculator is working right, our average worker pulled down $31,982.28 for the year. (That figure, of course, doesn’t include overtime or the value of benefits like health insurance.)

As your math teacher may have told you, the average doesn’t tell you that half of all U.S. workers made more, and half made less. That number is the median. According to the bureau, the median paycheck for men who were full-time wage and salary workers was $680 a week, or $35,360 a year. For women, the figure was $530, or $27,560 a year — some 22 percent less than men. (No one ever said salaries are fair. A recent study by a University of Florida professor found that tall people make more than short people; after controlling for gender, weight and age, he found that each inch in height added an average of $789 a year in pay.)

The BLS also serves up wage data state-by-state, and even city-by-city for over 85 areas within the 50 states. There’s a handy calculator that break down wages by occupation, region, and work level.

Work levels - similar to the “GS” scale used to calculate pay for federal government workers - take into account a specific job’s responsibilities using 9 factors. This is extremely useful in comparing how well you’re paid. A news reporter in your area with a “grade level” 10 makes $28.48 a hour, according to the BLS. That same job in New York city pays $31.60 an hour. The numbers can be especially useful if you’re thinking of changing careers or taking a new job in another part of the country.

And even if you decide to stay put, check the data the next time you decide you’re underpaid. If you’re right, you can take the report to your boss and make better case for a raise.

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