Jobs are hard to come by these days. Raises are puny. It's getting harder to get ahead, as most workers know.
But some employees still report to Easy Street when they punch in.
While average incomes have fallen during the last few years, CEO pay has continued to rise. Other executives and specialists with key skills earn top dollar, especially if they're willing to live on airplanes and make other tradeoffs that globalization demands. Some companies may even be willfully overpaying certain workers, since aggressive downsizing has left them more dependent than ever on fewer people.
[See: The 25 Best Jobs of 2013.]
To identify the most overpaid workers, U.S. News analyzed data provided by compensation experts at PayScale to highlight occupations characterized by relatively high pay for relatively easy work. This is admittedly an inexact science with subjective criteria. "Overpaid" means different things to different people, and many workers represented on our list have perfectly legitimate jobs requiring skill, talent and training.
What we tried to suss out are occupations that have been largely exempt from the do-more-with-less ethos so many workers are familiar with, and might even be considered enviable jobs. To help generate our list, PayScale sorted data on thousands of occupations to isolate those in which median pay is well above the norm. The final list includes jobs held by people who report relatively low levels of stress (a proxy for how demanding the work is) and who feel their job doesn't necessarily make the world a better place. (See a methodology note at the bottom of the story.) By those standards, here's our list of the 10 most overpaid jobs:
Consulting software engineer (median mid-career salary: $123,000). These high-end programmers design and maintain sophisticated computer networks for big companies and other large organizations. But the work can be dry and many such engineers question the value of what they do. Other types of programmers and software engineers rank high on the overpaid list as well.
Brand strategist ($90,700). These advertising or marketing specialists work to improve the image and reputation of companies and their offerings--whether deserved or not. Brand strategists rate the importance of their own work poorly compared with other professionals.
Interaction designer ($116,000). Many websites rely on these technical experts to make the user's experience engaging and fun--though often to lure users into a purchase or transaction rather than provide personal benefits to them. Other types of website architects and managers also made the overpaid list.
[Read: The 10 Most Underpaid Jobs.]
Marketing research director ($122,000). They're highly paid, but market-research pros these days increasingly slice and dice reams of data instead of interacting with focus groups or real people. Job stress is particularly low compared with other occupations, suggesting cushy work conditions, often in front of a computer.
Accounting consultant ($81,700). These specialized auditors have lots of expertise, but even they seem to think they're overpaid: Nearly three-quarters say their job has no positive impact on the world or makes it a worse place.
Portfolio analyst ($81,800). It's certainly not a job a monkey could do, but the value of portfolio analysts who continually recalibrate pools of investments to optimize their value has been questioned for a long time--even by analysts themselves. Some overestimate their expertise or fail to acknowledge their limited ability to predict what might go wrong.
Wholesaler, financial services ($109,000). Is one insurance policy or mutual fund really that much better than another? The sales pros who pitch financial products to businesses (which might offer them to their own employees or customers, in turn) strive to make their offerings seem best, but skepticism is an occupational hazard in this job.
Patent attorney ($170,000). We tend to think of patents as the breakthrough insights of revolutionary inventors, but they're increasingly a form of warfare among corporations seeking to prevent each other from gaining a technology edge. The lawyers who fight those battles are among the highest-paid professionals PayScale surveys.
Investment consultant ($111,000). Financial advisers can help develop a long-term investing strategy, but they sometimes hawk products on behalf of favored financial firms or advocate active trading--which racks up fees--rather than more proven buy-and-hold strategies. Consumers have become widely skeptical of financial professionals.
Data scientist, IT ($133,000.) Big data is the next big thing, and these quantitative experts--typically with doctorates in math or similar fields--earn big bucks for developing the models and algorithms that will help corporations gain a marketing or competitive edge. What's in it for the ordinary people whose data is being scrutinized is less clear.
(Methodology: PayScale.com, which conducts detailed surveys on compensation, sorted data on thousands of occupations by three variables, each weighted equally: total median cash compensation for a worker with 10 years of experience or more, relative to the median for all jobs; the degree of job stress workers report in each field; and how meaningful workers say their job is. Jobs with high relative pay, low stress and low meaningful ratings were rated as "overpaid," while jobs with low relative pay, high stress and high meaningful ratings were rated as "underpaid." U.S. News combined some job categories to prevent repetition and make the list more representative of the entire economy.)
Rick Newman's latest book is Rebounders: How Winners Pivot From Setback To Success. Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman.