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By Pittsburgh The Tribune-Review
Sunday, Feb. 26, 2012

From sales clerks to administrative assistants, these people fill the most common occupations in the country:

1) Retail salespeople

Number nationwide: 4,155,190

Mean salary: $25,000

Name: Sasha Dixon

Age: 21

Residence: Crafton

Position: Sales associate at Lane Bryant at The Mall at Robinson

How long have you worked there• Three months.

Why did you choose this type of work• "It's actually one of my favorite stores to shop at. I always wanted to work here since I was younger."

What do you like about your job• "Honestly, the discount on clothes -- 40 percent. The people I work with, they're also fantastic. We have a great time working together because we laugh all the time."

What's the toughest thing about it• "Keeping your mouth shut is the hardest thing, when (customers) are rude to you."

Salary: About $10,000 a year

How do we get the economy going again• "Bringing the cost of things down a little bit would help."

-- Bill Zlatos


2) Cashiers

Number nationwide: 3,354,170

Mean salary $19,810

Name: Diane Stafford

Age: 54

Residence: Vandergrift

Position: Cashier/sales assistant at Thrift Supply/Ace Hardware, Greensburg

How long have you worked there• 5 12 years.

Why did you choose this type of work• "I've loved hardware stores my entire life because of the variety of things for sale."

What do you like about your job• "Learning methods and materials to build different things."

What's the toughest thing about it• "Learning the details about certain supplies -- like the different types of pipes -- is complicated."

Salary: Would not disclose.

How do we get the economy going again• "More jobs. Our boss here in Greensburg, John McCollough, has done his bit hiring several people here the last year."

-- Paul Peirce


3) Office clerks, general

Number nationwide: 2,789,590

Mean salary: $28,240

Name: Terrence James

Age: 28

Residence: Stanton Heights

Position: Lead mail clerk for Highmark Inc.'s western region

How long have you worked there• 10 years

Why did you choose this type of work• "I chose this job because I believed it would allow me to grow as a person and professionally. I knew Highmark was a highly recognized company and that they are great community representatives. I thought it was a great opportunity for me to showcase my talent in organizational skills, poise and hard work."

What do you like about your job• "My job allows me to perform in various areas of my department. I am knowledgeable about U.S. mail, bar-coded mail, transportation of mail and interoffice mail procedures. I'm active on all floors on a daily basis and interact and network with just about everyone in the company."

What's the toughest thing about it• "The toughest part of the job is maintaining more than 4,000 pieces of bar-coded mail for Highmark's western region on a monthly basis."

Salary: Declined to disclose.

How do we get the economy going again• "I believe waste is one of our country's biggest downfalls. I also believe we need to create more jobs and become a more proactive country, as opposed to a more reactive one."

-- Rachel Weaver


4) Combined food preparers and servers, includes fast food

Number nationwide: 2,692,170

Mean salary: $18,610

Name: Jessica Stacy

Age: 21

Residence: Carnegie

Position: Works about 30 hours weekly as a cashier/server at Brighton Hot Dog Shoppe in Green Tree. Attends California University of Pennsylvania, where she is a junior majoring in public relations.

How long have you worked there• Three years, nine months

Why did you choose that type of work• "It's close to my house, and they were hiring at the appropriate time that I needed a job."

What do you like about your job• "The hours are great. The atmosphere ... everyone is friends here, familiar customers."

What's the toughest thing about it• "I guess really just cleaning. ... Nothing is really too horrible."

Salary: Declined to disclose, but more than Pennsylvania's minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

How do we get the economy going again• "Consumers supporting small and independently owned businesses more would improve the strength of the economy."

-- Tory N. Parrish

5) Registered nurses

Number nationwide: 2,655,020

Mean salary: $67,720

Name: Susan Baker

Age: 47

Residence: Cranberry

Position: Registered nurse at Allegheny General Hospital

How long have you been a registered nurse• 25 years

Why did you choose this type of work• "Nursing appealed to me because I'm a people person and decided when I was in school that I didn't want a desk job. I really love my profession."

What do you like about your job• "I really enjoy my patients, and the fact that the profession offers a lot of flexibility, which was important when my children were young."

What's the toughest thing about it• "Nurses spend a lot of the day on their feet, so it can be physically demanding. It also can be a very stressful job."

Salary: Earns above the median income for registered nurses.

How do we get the economy going again• "Keep taxes low and let me keep the money I earn."

-- Tony LaRussa


6) Waiters and waitresses, includes full-service restaurants

Number nationwide: 2,244,480

Mean salary: $20,790

Name: Eric Toth

Age: 40

Residence: North Side

Position: Server at Hyde Park Prime Steakhouse on the North Shore

How long have you worked there• For the past year, though he's been a server for more than 20 years.

Why did you chose this type of work• "I love the service industry. I love people."

What do you like about your job• "The hustle and bustle. I couldn't sit behind a desk."

What's the toughest thing about it• "Inconsistent money"

Salary: $25,000 a year

How do we get the economy going again• "If I had the answer to this question, I wouldn't be a server. I'd be the president."

-- Jill Greenwood

7) Customer service representatives

Number nationwide: 2,146,120

Mean salary: $32,780

Name: Randi Kwiatkowski

Age: 56

Residence: Franklin Park

Position: Customer service representative for Aetna Inc.

How long have you worked there• 13 years

Why did you choose this type of work• "I was a stay-at-home mom but as my children grew older, I needed to get back to work. A friend of mine worked at Aetna Inc. and she suggested I apply, which I did, and got the job."

What do you like about your job• "My favorite feeling about this job is that I can help people. That's human nature. I feel gratified when I'm able to explain to a customer their benefits, understand how a claim was paid or not paid. I like to place myself in their position."

What is the toughest part of your job• "Actually, it's not a tough job. Even when something new occurs, because health insurance is tough to understand, but I'm able to learn what is occurring and explain it to the customer."

Salary: "I'm above the $32,780 median. Aetna starts people at $14 per hour, but this varies according to experience and other reasons."

How do we get our economy going again• "We must emphasize strong work ethics, and be ready to start at the bottom on a job and work to advance. We must put our nose to the grindstone and not look at it as just a job, but as a career."

-- Sam Spatter


8) Janitors and cleaners

Number nationwide: 2,058,610

Mean salary: $24,560

Name: Juan Lacey

Age: 55

Residence: North Side

Position: Works for A&H Green Solutions, a small Downtown janitorial company.

How long have you worked there• Since 2005.

Why did you chose this type of work• "I like working at a company that is improving the way things are done."

What do you like about your job• "It's is a green janitorial service that is emphasizing recycling. That saves clients money."

What is the toughest part of your job• The unpredictability. Cleaning a building is much more work after it snows."

Salary: Did not disclose.

How do we get the economy going again• "Companies need to keep up-to-date and adapt to changing needs and technology. That's what this company has done."

-- Rick Wills

9) Laborers and freight, stock and material movers

Number nationwide: 2,024,180

Mean salary: $25,710

Name: John Dionise

Age: 36

Residence: Moon

Position: Driver for FedEx Ground

How long have you worked there• Became a FedEx Ground driver five years ago; has owned multiple delivery routes for four years.

Why you chose this type of work• "My whole intention was to get a foot in at the FedEx Ground corporate office. I had a couple of interviews, and then a couple of opportunities on the route-contracting side presented themselves. I'm glad they did."

What do you like about your job• Providing a "substantial service" to customers.

What's the toughest part of your job• "You are on-call seven days a week. You have do a good job of setting your parameters" of separating work and home life.

Salary: Declined to say, but said drivers can earn wages "in the ballpark" of the national average.

How do we get the economy going again• "To be perfectly honest, we have not felt any ill effects. We had some record-breaking numbers this Christmastime."

-- Tom Fontaine


10) Secretaries and administrative assistants, except legal, medical and executive

Number nationwide: 1,841,020

Mean salary: $32,000

Name: Lisa Seremet

Age: 39

Residence: Latrobe

Position: administrative assistant, Seton Hill University Office of Mission and Student Life

How long have you worked there• One year in her position, 12 years in the field

Why did you choose this type of work• "I went to business school and started out in accounting. Computers really caught my eye. I enjoyed working on word processors and spreadsheets. It really escalated after business school. I decided this was the area I wanted to go into."

What you like about your job• "Every day is different. There is always something new going on. The technology factor for me is huge here at Seton Hill. We have iPads, iMacs. ... That makes me a more valuable employee, to be able to work on both types of systems."

What's the toughest thing about your job• "(Her supervisor, Sister Lois Sculco) serves on a lot of committees. Her schedule is very hectic. Keeping track of it and her keeps me on my toes. I keep her tech savvy as well, keep her in touch with those changes. It's challenging, in a good way."

Salary: Did not disclose

How do we the economy going again• "A lot (of adults) are returning here to try to reinvent themselves and make themselves more marketable. Hopefully, business owners and government can get together and find more ways to offer them employment. I would like to see those sustainable jobs where people can afford to take care of their families."

-- Mary Pickels


Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates; Tribune-Review

Additional Information:

One hundred years ago, these were the most common professions:

1) Farm laborers* • 5,975,057

2) Farmers • 5,865,003

3) Clerical occupations • 1,737,053

4) Servants • 1,572,225

5) Retail dealers • 1,195,029

6) General laborers • 869,478

7) Carpenters • 817,120

8) Coal miners • 613,924

9) Teachers • 599,237

10) Launders and laundresses • 533,697

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

* All workers 10 years and older engaged in specific occupations

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