Avoid These Five Low-Pay, Dead-End Careers

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Pursuing one of these careers could translate into low pay and low growth.

By Amy Howell Hirt

Fed up with your current job and ready to seek greener pastures? A career change can allow you to follow your passions, pursue your dreams, and expand your horizons. But beware of transitioning into one of these careers, whose low median annual salaries and declining jobs numbers make them some of the worst in America.

There are a variety of reasons for their less-than-stellar outlooks and pay: Sometimes it's a highly-competitive field, says John Hadley, principal of a career search counseling firm in New Jersey. Sometimes the position requires minimal skill or minimal responsibility, he says.

So if you're looking for a career change, here's a rundown of some of the worst jobs that you should steer clear of, along with some alternatives that could offer better pay and more job security.

Worst Career #1:
Teller

Median Annual Salary: $24,940*

Projected Job Growth from 2010 to 2020**: 1 percent, or 7,300 new jobs

What's one sign that your career is endangered? When it can be replaced by an app.

Tellers handle bank transactions such as money deposits, check cashing, and payments, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. But the problem is that online and mobile banking applications can now perform many of the same transactions tellers do. And because fewer bank customers will visit the teller window, there will be a decreased demand for tellers, the Department of Labor says.

Tellers also "deal with pretty small amounts [of money]," Hadley says, which can translate to a relatively small level of responsibility and compensation.

Career To Consider:
Financial Analyst

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Median Annual Salary: $76,950

Projected Job Growth from 2010 to 2020: 23 percent, or 54,200 new jobs

On the other hand, the growing number of financial products available today - like stocks, bonds, and other financial investments - is expected to create more job opportunities for financial analysts. These professionals assess the performance of stocks and bonds and guide businesses and individuals making investment decisions, according to the Department.

Plus, financial analysts deal with very large amounts of money, which can be stressful. So they can be compensated handsomely for that stress, Hadley says. "One misplaced decimal could add up to a big mistake, and their salary is commensurate with that," he says.

Next step: Click to Find the Right Finance Program.

Education Options: Many financial analyst positions might require you to have a bachelor's degree in a field such as accounting, business administration, finance, economics, or statistics, the Department reports. However, for advanced positions employers often require a master's degree in business administration (MBA) or finance.

Worst Career #2:
Fashion Designer

Median Annual Salary: $62,860

Projected Job Growth from 2010 to 2020: 0 percent, or 0 jobs

Want to pursue a career as a fashion designer? Then get ready to join the growing pool of candidates trying to pursue the zero jobs that the U.S. Department of Labor predicts will be added in this industry between 2010 and 2020.

Plus, starting salaries for designers - who might study fashion trends and create original clothing or accessories - tend to be "very low," the Department of Labor reports. That's partly due to the popularity of the career, says Andrea St. Jean, a New Hampshire-based career counselor.

"Because it's considered a really sexy job, it's so competitive that [positions] can be low-paying," she says.

Career To Consider:
Art Director

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Median Annual Salary: $80,880

Projected Job Growth from 2010 to 2020: 9 percent, or 6,700 new jobs

Put that eye for style to work alternatively as an art director and you could be vying for one of 6,700 new jobs between 2010 and 2020 instead - jobs that could also have higher salaries than those in fashion design.

Like designers, art directors focus on making an impact through visual design. In fact, according to the Department, their daily tasks might include developing the style of an advertising campaign, or selecting the images to use in magazines and television productions.

"Art directors will continue to be needed to oversee the work of graphic designers, illustrators, photographers, and others engaged in artwork or layout design," the Department says. It also notes that most of the projected new jobs will be in the advertising, public relations, and related services industries.

Next step: Click to Find the Right Art Program.

Education Options: In addition to previous work experience, an art director needs a bachelor's degree in an art or design field, according to the Department. That previous experience could come from various fields, such as graphic design, illustration, copyediting, photography, or other art- or design-related occupations. The Department adds that some complete a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) or a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree to supplement their work experience.

Worst Career #3:
Dental Laboratory Technician

Median Annual Salary: $36,090

Projected Job Growth from 2010 to 2020: 1 percent, or 300 new jobs

What's the downside of better preventive dental care? Worse job prospects for dental laboratory technicians, who, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, are responsible for creating dentures, crowns, bridges, and other dental appliances.

Because visits to the dentist have increased, baby boomers and their children are more likely to keep their teeth than generations past, so there is less need for dental technician services, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

And because the job doesn't require advanced education or skills, the pay is low, St. Jean says.

Career To Consider:
Dental Hygienist

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Median Annual Salary: $70,210

Projected Job Growth from 2010 to 2020: 38 percent, or 68,500 new jobs

Dental hygienists might do things like clean patients' teeth, look for signs of oral disease, take X-rays and apply sealants, according to the Department of Labor.

And opportunities in the field are expected to increase much faster than average, as hygienists are needed to care for all the healthy teeth that baby boomers are now keeping later in life, the Department says. New technology that helps diagnose problems in oral health is also expected to increase the number of dental hygienist jobs.

Plus, they're generally paid well because they need "highly specialized skills" to handle many of the duties that dentists used to perform, Hadley says.

Next step: Click to Find the Right Dental Hygiene Program.

Education Options: Typically, dental hygienists need an associate's degree in dental hygiene, in addition to a license, the Department says.

Worst Career #4:
Craft and Fine Artist

Median Annual Salary: $29,600 for craft artists; $44,850 for fine artists

Projected Job Growth from 2010 to 2020: 5 percent, or 3,100 new jobs

If you dream of pursuing a career as an artist, you'll probably need more than your creativity to make a living. "It has much more to do with a person's marketing savvy than their talent," Hadley says. And that makes sense since in addition to developing creative ideas or new methods for making art, craft and fine artists also develop portfolios to show gallery owners and others interested in their work, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

While there are plenty of artists who aren't starving, the real problem is that there are plenty of artists, period. And that competition - along with a weak economy - drives down both the potential pay and job opportunities for artists, Hadley says.

Career To Consider:
Graphic Designer

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Median Annual Salary: $44,150

Projected Job Growth from 2010 to 2020: 13 percent, or 37,300 new jobs

The Department of Labor says that graphic designers create images that identify a product or convey a message, and advise clients on strategies to reach a particular audience. So, as the use of the Internet increases, the Department projects that more designers might be needed to create designs for electronic publications, websites, and portable devices.

But besides helping to create the next great logo or advertising campaign, graphic designers could also see a good salary. According to the 2012 American Institute of Graphic Arts/Aquent Survey of Design Salaries, designers who are involved with "usability, web and interactive design" are seeing increased compensation and are increasingly in demand as companies see the value of design in getting a leg up on the improving economy.

Next step: Click to Find the Right Graphic Design Program.

Education Options: Ready to put your creativity to work? A bachelor's in graphic design or a related field is typically required to pursue this career, according to the Department. However, those with a bachelor's degree in another field could meet hiring qualifications by "pursuing technical training in graphic design," the Department says.

Worst Career #5:
Credit Authorizer

Median Annual Salary: $33,600

Projected Job Growth from 2010 to 2020: 5 percent, or 2,600 new jobs

If you were a credit authorizer, you might help others realize sunnier financial prospects. But the outlook wouldn't be so bright for your own professional future.

Credit authorizers gather the information needed to evaluate the creditworthiness of an individual or business, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. And there are a couple of reasons why you should think twice about this career. For one, a lack of responsibility often means low pay, Hadley says. Second, according to the Department of Labor, "the availability of online credit reports will reduce the need for these workers."  

Career To Consider:
Actuary

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Median Annual Salary: $93,680

Projected Job Growth from 2010 to 2020: 27 percent, or 5,800 new jobs

For the insurance industry, actuaries do very important work, according to the Department. More specifically, they use statistics and computer software to help businesses gauge the cost of an insurance event, such as an accident. They also develop policies to minimize risk and maximize profit.

And the good news is that employment is expected to grow for actuaries. As insurance companies adapt to new health care laws, actuaries will be needed to evaluate the effects of these laws and create new products in response, the Department notes.

So why do they get paid so well? While actuaries also evaluate the financial risks that a customer or business presents - like credit authorizers do - they typically receive a much higher salary because of the highly-specialized knowledge and skills required, Hadley says.

Next step: Click to Find the Right Business Program.

Education Options: Actuaries need to earn a bachelor's degree - typically in math, statistics, business, or actuarial science, as well as pass various exams to "become a certified professional," according to the Department.

* All salary information and projected job growth rates from the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2012.

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