Bringing home the bacon. Raking in the dough. Breadwinning. Whatever you want to call it, earning a good salary is a huge motivator when you’re charting your professional path. No matter what job you have, earning money is essential for paying bills, taking care of your family, and seeing the progress you’re making in your career growth. But a question on many people’s minds is, “What is a good salary?”
Well, a good salary depends on a few factors, which we’ll get to. But before we dive in, remember this: Your salary is just a number. It’s not a reflection of your value or worth as a human being! But a salary is a good way to measure if you’re being paid fairly for your skills, experience and industry. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s look at what is considered a good salary.
What’s a Salary?
A salary is the set amount of money you earn at your job in a given period of time. Salaries are typically offered as an annual amount, like $60,000 per year. This means, regardless of how your paychecks are broken down—weekly, biweekly, bimonthly or monthly—you’ll get paid the set annual amount. (When you take a closer look at your paycheck, you’ll see there’s a difference between gross and net pay. Think of gross pay like your pre-tax salary to date, and net pay is what you take home after deductions.)
Keep in mind, if you’re paid an hourly wage instead of a salary, you’ll figure out your annual earnings a bit differently. Just multiply your hourly wage by however many hours a week you work, then multiply that by 52 weeks in a year. This will give you a general idea of your yearly income.
What Is Considered a Good Salary?
Well, what makes a good salary depends on you, your needs, and your values. But for most folks, a good salary is one you can live on comfortably, meaning your basic needs, like food, utilities, housing, transportation and clothes, are taken care of each month without going into debt. (And even better if you have money to save and invest.) There’s really no magic number that makes “a good salary.” (In fact, it’s what you do with your salary, not how much you earn, that determines your wealth over time!)
If your basic expenses are covered, a good salary (as a dollar amount) compared to the national average will depend on things like your age, location, education and professional experience (which we’ll look at more closely). You can use these markers to see where your salary stacks up against your city or country’s average.
But while we’re talking numbers, here’s the thing I want you to remember: It’s easy to fall into a comparison trap and get stuck keeping up with the Joneses. Comparing your salary to someone else’s, or even national averages, isn’t a reflection of your worth or the value you bring to the world. That said, it can be helpful to check out averages to see if your salary is competitive with the market and matches your qualifications—and we’ll look at how these factors can affect your pay next.
Factors That Contribute to Salary
A few things go into figuring out what is a good salary (which is an income that matches your skills and experience and helps you afford a safe and comfortable lifestyle). And remember: A good salary for you might not be a good salary for someone else, and vice versa. Now let’s look at four main factors that play into a salary.
Salaries typically—though not always—grow alongside your level of education. So, if high school is the highest level of education you complete, your income will likely match the skills you learn at that level. And if you get a college degree, there’s a higher chance your income will rise to the level of education.
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(Now, I say this as a general principle. Lots of people have gotten high-paying jobs without a degree and built amazing careers without finishing a formal education—myself included. College isn’t always worth it, especially when it means taking on student loans only to work a job that doesn’t pay enough to get rid of your debt later.)
Work experience is the real kicker when it comes to making a good salary and growing your income over time. The more you can demonstrate your leadership, influence and skill, the faster you’ll grow your salary. But before you can get promotions and raises, you’ve got to master what’s right in front of you.
Taking a job in a big metropolitan city, like San Francisco or New York, might pay more on average—but the cost of living will be much higher compared to a smaller city. (If you want to stretch a good salary, think about landing a high-paying remote job that’s based in a big city, but allows you to live anywhere.) Some areas also have a higher amount of high-paying industries, like technology in California, finance in New York, or oil in Texas, for example.
You’re going to find that jobs in medical, legal, technology and sales fields have great earning potential. Sometimes work in these industries will require extra education or training, but that up-front investment could pay off with a great salary and lots of professional opportunities later.
Average Salaries in the U.S.
The mean annual U.S. salary is $61,900.1 This means that across the country, you can expect most folks to earn around this amount, which is calculated by adding all salaries together and dividing that total by the number of salaries collected. When you factor in the extreme ends of U.S. salaries, including lower income levels and higher incomes in the six-figure range and even millions of dollars, this is the mean salary you get.
You can also look at the median salary in the U.S., which is calculated by ordering all salaries from smallest to largest and figuring out which number is exactly in the middle of that list. We’ll use both of these calculations to show average salaries in this article.
Annual Mean U.S. Salaries in Major Cities:
What is the average salary in the U.S. by location? Keep reading to see the average annual pay in several metropolitan areas across the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Keep in mind, these numbers don’t represent the mean salary of the entire state, like the average salary of Texas for example. They show the average salary of the city.2
|Los Angeles, CA||$69,540|
|San Francisco, CA||$94,370|
|Las Vegas, NV||$54,410|
|New York, NY||$78,560|
Estimated Median Salary of U.S. Workers According to Education Levels:
Your level of education has a significant impact on your earning potential. Check out these average salaries in the U.S. based on higher education:3
Estimated Median Annual Salaries by Age Group:
Did you know your salary will fluctuate based on how old you are? Workers typically see a peak in their earnings between 35 to 44 years old, but don’t let this average salary jump limit your earning! You can still earn a good salary well into your 50s and even 60s before retiring.4
|55 to 64:||$61,672|
|45 to 54:||$64,116|
|35 to 44:||$63,908|
|25 to 34:||$54,184|
|16 to 24:||$34,190|
Estimated Median Annual Salaries by Industry:
Like I mentioned earlier, different industries will pay more than others. The median salaries can depend on the education needed to get into the field or the impact, risk and skill these jobs require to be successful. Check out these median annual salaries by industry:5
|Business and Financial Operations||$86,080|
|Computers and Information Analysts||$110,550|
|Educational and Library Occupations||$63,240|
|Art, Design and Media||$76,500|
|Health Care Practitioners||$96,770|
|Food Preparation and Serving||$32,130|
|Service Sales Representatives||$81,230|
(Keep in mind that salary is a term used to describe yearly income. Jobs like food prep, construction and sales are included here, but these industries often pay workers based on the hour or commission.)
5 Ways to Grow Your Salary
Want to know what’s great about a salary that’s not so good? It can grow! But you’ll have to be proactive and take steps to increase your income (which is your most powerful wealth-building tool, by the way). And it all starts with your mindset. You might feel like it’s impossible to make more money, or that you’ll never earn more than you do now in your current job, but that’s simply not true! I want you to be empowered to grow your salary, and here are five ways you can do just that.
1. Get a promotion. You might not have to look for a new company to land a bigger salary. Instead, see what growth opportunities exist at your current company and start to work toward that next level of responsibility and influence.
2. Find a growth track that leads to a raise. Hear this loud and clear—I’m not suggesting you walk into your boss’s office and demand a raise. Instead, have a conversation about getting on a growth path that will lead to a pay raise when you’ve built up a track record of growth and results.
3. Negotiate the salary when you start a new job. When you’re looking at a serious job offer, compare the salary with the market rate for that position. Don’t be afraid to negotiate! You’ll have to do your research and be prepared with facts. The hiring manager might not give you the salary you want, but it’s always worth giving it a shot.
4. Make extra money doing what you love by starting a business. Hey, this might not be for everyone. But if you’ve got an entrepreneurial spirit, starting your own business or side hustle could be a great way to increase your salary. If you love what you do in your current 9-to-5, see if there’s a way you could build your own business around those same skills and responsibilities.
5. Make a career change. Maybe the printer paper sales industry isn’t exactly booming, but companies looking for software engineers can’t hire fast enough. If you want to increase your salary, consider a change in careers. This might require some extra training or education, but hey—a small investment in your education on the front end could lead to a big payoff down the line.
Take the Next Step to Grow Your Career (and Salary)
All right—now you know how your income stacks up to the average U.S. salary. Whether you’ve got a great salary or your income has lots of room to grow, you can learn more about how to increase your annual salary by checking out The Ken Coleman Show, where I coach callers into taking the next right step to grow in their career. You’ll hear from callers just like you who are looking for practical advice that will help them discover the role they were born to play—and map out a plan to get there!