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Looking at the Full Range of Wages with Visualizing Economics

March 27, 2013 by Fraser Martens

We recently featured An Illustrated Guide to Income in the United States, a new book of infographics on the US economy that includes some great uses of EMSI data. The author, Catherine Mulbrandon, focused on using visualizations to give readers a new perspective on different types, sources, and levels of income in the U.S.

Often, labor market data offers a useful perspective on different occupations by telling us their median wages or average earnings. This is great for getting a sense of what an occupation’s general earning potential is. But it doesn’t give a sense of the full range of earnings that are actually being made by workers in those occupations. That question is what Mulbrandon answers in this helpful graphic:

Mulbrandon’s graphic visualizes a number of relatively common 4-digit SOC occupation classifications. Using data compiled by EMSI, the chart shows, on the horizontal axis, the earnings range for each occupation. While the pink dot in each bar highlights the median wage, the length of the bar reaches from the 10th to the 90th percentile of occupation earnings. As well, the hash marks for the 25th and 75th percentile give us a sense of how the different wages in the range are distributed (e.g., a worker at the 75th percentile makes more than 75% of workers in the occupation). Meanwhile, on the left side, corresponding bars show the number of actual jobs in each profession.



Contrary to the appearances of Hollywood glitz, actors are making much less than we might have expected. In fact, more than half of them are earning less than the average tree pruner. Even actors in the 90th percentile are still earning a relatively modest $117,000 annually; the multimillionaire stars make up significantly less than 10% of the occupation.


Fascinatingly, orthodontists have the widest range of potential earnings of any occupation of the chart. They have an impressively high median wage of almost $80 an hour, tops on the chart. But they also have a 10th percentile wage of barely half that ($38) and a 90th percentile wage more than 100% higher than the median ($162)

Tax Preparers

Tax preparers, on the other hand, are clumped in an interesting fashion. The 10th percentile wage appears to be hardly anything less than the median wage, which comes in at around $10 an hour. But be one of the lucky 50% to make it above the median wage, and major differences come into play; the range between 5oth and 75th percentile wages is almost $10 an hour, and that between 75th and 90th is as much again. This suggests a large number of low-ranking tax preparers who haven’t made a career of it, or perhaps seasonal employees, who earn very little, but also a few career tax preparers who are able to pull in much higher earnings.

To see more of Mulbrandon’s work from An Illustrated Guide to Income in the United States, or to order the book and see her other projects, check out Visualizing Economics’ website.

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