FORT LAUDERDALE — The numbers are tough. We've lost millions of jobs in the past two years. • You're probably content if you squeaked by with any sort of job, even if your pay took a hit. But it's a new year. And squeaking by isn't much of a long-term career strategy.
If you resolved to get a better job in 2010, I'd like to help you to make that choice wisely.
The decision begins with an honest look at your interests and qualifications. And it might mean going back to college to get the right sort of education.
What are the jobs that pay well? And what kind of education — and at what cost — will you need to get them?
A lot of them are in health care. Registered nurses, physicians, pharmacists, dentists and veterinarians are all on the list. Highest paying: an oral surgeon, whose average wage last year was close to $232,000 in Florida.
Jobs that are plentiful and pay the most, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, include stalwarts like health care professions that held up during the recession. But jobs in other fields — such as accounting and teaching — also do well. The hottest help-wanted categories that employers were posting last week on Yahoo Hot Jobs included sales and retail positions, along with tourism-linked jobs in hospitality.
At what cost?
Next, consider the cost of the first step toward a good-paying job, which is a college education.
The latest figures, from a College Board study in 2007, show that a college graduate's typical pay of $50,900 is more than one and a half times greater than a high school graduate's pay of $31,500. But how you pay for that education makes a difference in what you'll eventually get back.
Here's how it might play out for a job seeker in one category: lawyers. The projection nationwide is for an 11 percent growth in the number of lawyer jobs between 2006 and 2016.
Going to law school will cost you. Three years worth of tuition, room and board, fees, and books can run about $180,000 at the University of Miami School of Law, according to top-law-schools.com.
Let's say you borrowed a third of that, or $60,000. If it were a Stafford federal student loan at current rates, your monthly payment after graduation would be $690.48, according to finaid.org.
That would consume more than 16 percent of your after-tax salary, if you snagged a job that paid the median $69,000 entry-level salary for lawyers in Palm Beach, according to the 2009 estimate from the BLS's Occupational Employment Statistics.
Law is a great career. But if you plan to become a lawyer, do it with full knowledge of what that expensive education will eventually mean to your personal finances.
The story is the same for many fast-growing careers. Accountants and auditors, for example, might find their repayment options limited on the $40,829 median starting salary for 2009. The same would be true for dentists, whose starting salary was $56,076 in Fort Lauderdale in 2009.
If you need to dig yourself out of a mountain of debt — either debt you had before school or debt you piled up as a student — you might not be living your dream lifestyle for the first 10 years of your career. Because that is how long it takes to pay off the typical student loan.
A recent report from the Education Department notes that 12 percent of all student borrowers who began repayment in 2007 had gone into default, up from 9.2 percent the previous year. That's almost as high as Florida's 12.74 percent foreclosure rate for homes.
The lesson is to know what your future job pays before you commit to an expensive education or training course. If you don't know, check sites like Payscale.com or Monster.com's "salary wizard" to get a specific idea.
You can also take it to the local level. Go to labormarketinfo.com/library/oes.htm and input your city and occupation to see specific salary estimates.
You want to make your career choice with as much information as you can find, because your career is one of your greatest financial assets. And because as the economy recovers — and it will — you will want to take the right opportunity.
"It is going to be a calculated guess," said Mason Jackson, chief executive of Workforce One. "Take a look at what's happening in the world and say to yourself, 'What are the personal services that probably are not going to be (moved) offshore?' "
Sun Sentinel database editor Dana Williams contributed to this report.