Out one night recently, I got swept up in the mood and hopped behind the bar. There I was, slinging gin and tonics, beers, and vodka-cranberries, and having a blast. Who knew I’d be cut out for that kind of job—and who knew I’d make so much money in tips? My flirtation with life as a barmaid got me thinking: what other “laid-back labor” jobs offer hefty pay?
One Man’s Trash Is Another Man’s Treasure
According to a 2010 update of Mish’s Global Economic Trend Analysis, Seattle trash collectors make an annual salary of $109,553. This number varies from city to city across the United States, but municipal workers are generally paid very well for doing the dirty work. In New York City, the Department of Sanitation reports that the current starting salary for a sanitation worker is $31,200 per year, with a labor agreement in place that provides for periodic increases to a maximum of $67,141 after five and a half years. In addition to the basic annual wages, New York City sanitation workers may also earn differential payments based on their specific assignment and the overtime they work.
Gas in the Tank, Money in the Bank
My dad always warned me that mechanics would charge me an arm and a leg. I’m sure he was just being paranoid, and that most mechanics are honest and professional workers, but compared with others at their education level, they do rake in the dough. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, mechanics make a mean hourly wage of $18.05 ($10.80 more than the national minimum wage) and a mean annual wage of $37,450. The job requires, at most, a vocational or associate’s degree from a community college; mechanics learn most of the precise skills of their trade on the job.
Knock on Wood
I would have married Johnny Cash no matter what he did for a living. If he had been a carpenter, I probably wouldn’t have had to settle for less, since carpenters bring home a nice wad of cash: on average, $20.64 per hour and $42,940 per year, according to the Occupational Outlook Handbook  for 2010–2011. Their wages vary by industry, with residential building construction employees earning the most money, and industrial employees the least.
Cold, Hard Cash
I used to date a guy who worked for his uncle’s air-conditioning-installation company. That sounds like menial labor, but my man was able to wine and dine me in style with his paycheck. The company was located near Napa, California, where air-conditioner installers can expect to make about $33.33 per hour and $69,330 per year, based on figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Across the country, workers in this field make a mean hourly wage of $20.31 and a mean annual wage of $42,240—not bad for a job that requires only a trade-school education or apprenticeship.
In these times of rising college tuitions and student-loan scandals, it’s nice to know that there are relatively high-paying jobs that don’t require post-secondary education. So if the mood strikes me some other night and I decide to hop behind that bar again, I’ll have a lot more incentive to learn how to mix those drinks like a professional.