How much money do engineers make? The answer is, not very much, and I will explain the reasons why, and give some examples.
One of the main reasons why engineers in the United States do not make very much money, is because the supply of engineers is much, much greater than the demand for engineers.
Before I continue, readers might be asking the question, where am I getting my information? From myself, I am a 48 year old engineer, from my friends who are engineers, from my former co-workers who were engineers, from my relatives who are engineers, and from reading first hand accounts from other engineers.
One of the reasons why there is an over supply of engineers, is because newspapers, colleges, and universities keep saying that the United States needs more engineers. That is true, the United States needs more engineers, people who truly understand the infrastructure and systems, however, there are so many engineers now, that most any engineer is easily replaceable, because there are hundreds of engineers that would be willing and able to fill any vacancy.
As long as universities are graduating tens of thousands of engineers every year, young graduates who are willing to take a job for $38,000 per year, take work home with them at night and on weekends, perform the work of two or three people, why would a business or corporation need to keep very many engineers around who are in their 40s, who do less work and are paid $50,000 per year?
Another reason why engineers are not paid very much money, is because they are not business majors or marketing majors. Unfortunately, what engineers see in college, that business majors and marketing majors do not have to work nearly as hard as engineers to pass their curriculum, this same thing continues in the real world. Business majors and marketing majors are paid more money by businesses and corporations than engineers, and they do less work than engineers.
Engineers have themselves to blame for this. Engineers are so eager to get a job and be an engineer, that they accept a very low starting salary, considering the great cost, time, and effort that they put into their education. They don’t market themselves well, represent themselves well, or manage themselves well. This is also why they foolishly accept the work of two to three people being dumped on them, and take this work home with them at night and on weekends to complete it.
Let me give two real life examples of young engineers being overworked, for low pay.
I went to the University of Florida. My cousin was several years behind me in school at UF, she was majoring in something related to engineering. Her fiancee was in a different engineering department than me, and he was getting his masters degree in a field of engineering. When they both graduated, they got married, and they both had jobs lined up in Dallas, Texas.
My cousin’s husband, would work from about 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Monday through Friday, about eleven hours per day. Keep in mind that in Dallas, the commute in traffic is about 45 minutes to and from work. Also keep in mind, that he was on a fixed salary of maybe $45,000 per year because he had a masters degree and was somewhat of an expert. However, when he got home, the corporation would call him to come back to work to handle problems that came up, after he had already worked an 11 hour day, and had driven 1.5 hours commuting. This happened on weekends too.
After one year of marriage, my cousin wanted, and got a divorce. She said that all her husband wanted to do when he got home from work, was just sit down in a recliner and not go anywhere or do anything. Keep in mind, that he probably had to get up to get ready for work at about 5:00 a.m., and he didn’t get home from work until about 7:00 p.m. And sometimes he would get called back to work. One of the other things that was a source of problems in their marriage, was their inability to afford a house in the Dallas area on their income, even though they both had masters degrees.
The second example that I will give about young engineers being overworked for low pay is about a couple that I met in Arizona who were both graduating with degrees in mechanical engineering. The husband and wife were very intelligent, personable, and outgoing. The wife was also very attractive and athletic.
They didn’t have any trouble getting jobs lined up in Phoenix before they graduated. Because they were so personable and outgoing, they probably got hired at the high side of starting pay, maybe $40,000 to $45,000 per year salary.
Within one year, their whole outlook on life, work, and being an engineer changed. They each left home for work before the sun came up, and they each returned home from work after the sun had gone down. With the commute to work, they were putting in 12 hour work days.
To try to have some normalcy and health in her life, the wife would try to go jogging after work, but it was both dark, and in a not very nice neighborhood. There were a couple of incidents that happened when the wife was jogging, because she was young and attractive. As young engineers, they did not make enough money to afford to live in a nice neighborhood in Phoenix.
After about 1-1/2 years, they left Phoenix, not caring about what they did for a living, but determined that they were not going to live like that.
I just gave two examples of what is was like working as a young engineer, being underpaid and overworked. It was like this for me too, though in addition to this, I was sometimes treated like shit, by older engineers who wanted to run young engineers off, and by business owners who were resentful of people with an engineering education.
As a comparison, I want to give some examples of what other people are paid. Myself, and two of the other people that I gave as examples of young engineers up above, we each graduated first in our high school class. We each had to complete at least five years of college, and pass tremendously difficult classes like calculus, mechanics-statics which is twice as hard as calculus, and thermodynamics which is twice as hard as mechanics-statics.
In high school, there were girls that were in slow-learning classes, not even regular classes, but slow-learning classes. Some of these girls that barely graduated from high school, could go work in a strip bar and make $40,000 to $50,000 per year, or take a six months dental hygienist program and make $40,000 to $50,000 per year. The dumbest big tittied girls in high school could make more money than engineering graduates that went to college for five years. This is how engineers are treated in the Unites States.
I will give two examples of older engineers that I know, who went bankrupt.
One of the most brilliant engineers who I ever met, he invented a very important device that is used around the world. His name is included in books from different countries that credit him with inventing this device.
He was a very young mechanical engineer working in a machine shop type business. He was aware that there was gap in products that didn’t work on some applications. So, he came up with a device which was very revolutionary, and very practical. The machine shop began producing this new product, and they sold every one that they made. He was persuaded by the machine shop owner, that he did not need to get a patent, so he didn’t. Later, the machine shop owner applied for and got the patent on this device.
This young engineer was bitter, but he did not let this get him down at the time, or try to litigate the patent on this device, because he was sure that he would go on to invent many other things. As he went to work for different companies, he was a very intelligent and insightful engineer, but he did not go very far, because he was not good at marketing, managing himself, or promoting himself. It didn’t matter if he had great ideas or better ways of doing things, if he could not persuade or manipulate their implementation.
As he got older, each new company that he went to work for, was a greater frustration for him, as the managers and co-workers were all so stupid. I know what he went through, as I went through this myself. Working on plans, calculations, and estimates all day long based on information supplied by a stupid person, only to be told near the end of the day that the initial information was incorrect. Remember, engineers are paid on salary, not by the hour, starting over at the end of the day means working late that night and not getting paid for it.
In order to not have to work for other people, he tried to start his own business, manufacturing and selling his own products. He was so desperate to not have to work for other people, that he lept into business without having a good product, or having done much research or a feasibility analysis. He went bankrupt, and he declared bankruptcy when he was about 40 years old. One of the jobs that he had for a while after this, was installing satellite TV for Dish Network at people’s homes, which you might make $20,000 to $25,000 per year doing this.
The second engineer that I will describe who went bankrupt, he was about 50 years old. Like me, and like the other engineer that I described above who went bankrupt, this 50 year old engineer had worked for different engineering companies and businesses.
He wanted to go out on his own, because he was tired of what engineers go through, being on a fixed salary, having to work 50 to 60 hours per week, having to do the work of two people, and not getting paid for it. By the way, whenever an engineer gets down to only having to work 40 hours per week, they fire him so that they can continue to make the other engineers do the work of two to three people.
This 50 year old engineer, he began a specialty construction installation company that performed work that he had overseen in the past. He was familiar with this industry, this process, and this type of work. Working at this company, were several engineers including myself, and several technicians who had experience in this work.
I won’t go into all of the details, but the main reason why this company failed, was because all of the work was underbid. A large corporation asked him to bid on a work package, that would take a couple of years to complete. The large corporation gave him some “typical” work projects to complete, in order to determine what his costs were, and provide an estimate for the entire work package.
Towards the end of the first year, it became apparent that the work projects that were being completed, were not like the “typical” work projects that were used to determine his costs. By the beginning of the second year, it turned out to be the case that every work project had several different underlying problems and complexities that made them much more time consuming and costly to complete.
The company owner had been tricked, duped, and deceived. A business type person would have had experience in handling this type of situation, and would have had a whole repertoire of fits, hysterics, tantrums, and threats to make sure that additional compensation would be provided for the additional work, before continuing.
This 50 year old engineer had not ever made much money. He made enough to support his wife and his son, and drive an old high mileage car, but not much else. When he was in his late forties, his mother and father both died, and he inherited the family farm, which he moved on to. It had an old wood house, not very nice, and several hundred acres of land.
He got a loan on his family farm, which he used to buy equipment for the company that he started when he was about 50 years old. When his company was not making money on work projects because the projects had been underbid, based on a misrepresentation of a “typical” work project, instead of calling a halt to the work, pitching a fit, and renegotiating, he took out another loan on his family farm, on whatever equity was left.
His company closed after about the second year in business. He was now about 52 years old, unemployed, and he had nothing. His family home was completely mortgaged.
I will conclude this explanation of why engineers do not make very much money, by saying that they get themselves into positions where they do not make very much money. When they are offered a low starting fixed salary, and are then tasked with working 50 to 60 hours per week, and doing the work of two people, they don’t protest, they don’t stand up and say that they are not going to do it, they go ahead and do it.
When engineers on fixed salaries are forced to stay late, or come back to work in the evening or on weekends, they should insist that they need to be paid for this. Engineers also need to find a way to ensure that engineers in their late 30s, 40s, and 50s are not always getting obsoleted and replaced by engineers who are just starting out who will work longer hours for less money.
The Unions have made sure that workers in manufacturing, construction, operators, welders, pipe fitters, plumbers, electricians, machinists, iron workers, and laborers, get a guaranteed hourly wage rate, guaranteed overtime, benefits, and retirement. Engineers are way, way behind in pay, benefits, job security, and retirement, because apparently they have poor negotiating, arguing, marketing, and business skills.