Here is a sampling of the comments you’ll come across when you search the web for information about the best paying jobs in welding: I think the money is at any job that’s dangerous; Ironworkers, underwater welders, pipe welders… all make a lot, and work their *** off; There is money to be made in the oilfield.
These opinions often hint at the truth, but one person’s experience rarely reflects everyone’s reality. For example, I’m sure there are at least a few pipe welders that don’t believe “a lot” accurately describes the amount they are paid for working long, hard hours.
So where do welders make the most money? The following list, compiled by Economic Modeling Services International, shows the ten U.S. states that offer the highest wages for welders. These systematically researched figures are more reliable than forum comments, but you have to take a close look at the factors driving the numbers to a get the whole picture.
For example, welders in the same state can take home very different paychecks depending on the level of demand for their particular skill set. The recent boom in domestic energy production has increased the demand for welders to build, maintain and repair pipelines or rigs in states like North Dakota and Texas. Industry booms like this often account for large wage discrepancies. In North Dakota, welders in the top earning bracket make about $39 per hour, yet the median wage hovers around $21 per hour (median wage means half of welders earned more than that amount and half earned less).
This is the sort of thing you have to keep in mind when you look at wage statistics in a field as diverse as welding. Long term job security, cost of living, and comfort are some other important variables to consider. For instance, Alaska offers the highest welder wages in the country, but the precipitous drop in oil prices and a continued reduction in production has darkened the prospects of an industry that makes up a third of the state’s economy.
Oil prices may have nosedived but those barrels still have to get to refineries and consumer markets. That should make a shipbuilding powerhouse like Hawaii an attractive proposition for welders in search of a larger paycheck. The top earners can count on about $40 per hour and the median hourly earnings are a very respectable $31.
Yet, like Alaska, Hawaii is likely to be a long way off from family and friends. And even if you’re ready to forego the comfort of familiar faces in order to pad your nest egg, the state’s cost of living might make it a wasted effort. The Cost of Living Index ranks Hawaii as one of the most expensive places to live in the United States. In the end, the Aloha state’s high salary figures may not compare that favorably to other places closer to home when you consider that housing, utilities, groceries, health care and transportation costs are well above the national average.
Job security, cost-of-living, and social concerns such as the proximity of family and friends, are all important considerations when it comes to making a geographical move to secure the best return on your hard work. However, the most critical factor is working conditions, especially when it comes to physical danger.
That high paying job in the Baaken Shale loses some of its allure when you consider the dramatic uptick in accidents and fatalities that accompanies a surge in energy sector hiring when oil prices rise. For example, between 2009 and 2013 more than 9,000 claims of injuries related to the booming oil and gas industry were filed with North Dakota’s Workforce Safety & Insurance agency. One of these involved marine veteran Dustin Payne who died when the tanker he was welding exploded.
Experts say that the frantic pace of drilling combined with an influx of workers who often lack the relevant training or experience leads to a rise in accidents and fatalities. But of course no one should risk their life for a paycheck, so make sure you are properly prepared to do the work and be ready to walk away if safety regulations are not well enforced.
Fortunately, there are plenty of online resources that provide information about working conditions, and other concerns like long term industry prospects and regional living expenses. For instance, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics compiles a prodigous amount of data about industries and occupations as well as working conditions, accidents, and fatalities. Websites like Payscale.com are also very helpful when it comes to locating information about average incomes and living expenses in different parts of the country.
These days, it’s really a matter of plugging the right keywords into a search engine like Google or Firefox to get news reports, blog posts, survey results, and other kinds of information about practically any topic. Click here for a brief tutorial on techniques you can use to find what you are looking for more quickly.
With a checklist of concerns and online resources at your fingertips, you can make the most of the data provided in tables like this one featuring all 50 states plus the District of Columbia and national totals. Note the total number of welders per state and the increase or decrease in welding jobs between 2009 and 2013. The location quotient indicates the concentration of welders relative to the national average. For example a state with a location quotient of 1.0 would have the same concentration of welders as the nation as a whole.
Note also that these wages do not include overtime, a major part of many of the astronomical paychecks that you hear about from time to time. Nor do these wages account for non-welding tasks like certified inspectors or supervisors, another reliable means of increasing your income.
Do you work in one of these states? What has your experience been like? Let us know in the comments below.