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The CareerCast ranking of the best and worst jobs in America, picked up by the WSJ, has been bouncing around the Internet recently. I wondered why actuary was rated so high - I dunno, I figure a job that uses difficult math to abstract death sounds slightly less stressful than working on a bomb squad - until I read this from Progress Illinois:
Will men see their insurance rates jump if health care reforms passes this year? That's what Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois claims. In what they are calling a "detailed actuarial analysis," the insurance giant estimates that premiums for younger, healthier men in the individual and small group markets would increase 119 percent under the proposals that have passed both chambers.
It shouldn't have been a revelation, I suppose, that an expanding health care industry would require an army of well-compensated actuaries, but I am a blogger of very little brain. Still, there was something about the methodology that irked me.
"So why is Actuary rated number one? For starters, the position ranks especially well for its low physical demands and stress levels, finishing 2nd and 3rd, respectively, out of all 200 jobs."
How they determine that an actuary involves .02 more (joules? psi?) physical demands than a statistician is somewhat confusing; then again, I am not a statistician. But if you look at the methodology, it gets even weirder.
Let's take a look at "stress levels." Some of the criteria are undeniably stressful: "Life of another at risk," "Environmental conditions," "Confinement," etc. Some of them are... like I said, weird: "Advocacy," "Detail," "Initiative required," "Outdoor work." This one really confused me; emphasis mine: "For example, 'deadlines' was one demand measured. Journalists, who often face daily deadlines, received the maximum of 9 points in this category. In contrast, biologists, who seldom face deadlines, received no points."
The more you dive into their methodology, the more unsettling it gets. "The necessary energy component" is ranked on a 0-5 scale; as in the similarly abstract and pointless pursuit of golf, a lower score is better. "Degree of contact with the public" is ranked from 0-8. Physical demands are ranked from "Sedentary Work" to "Very Heavy Work," with sedentary being the best.
In short, the best job, according to this survey, is one where you never see or talk to anyone outside the office, never see the sun, and sit at a desk while faced with as little initiative and as few deadlines and possibilities for advocacy as possible. I had a job like that, taken out of necessity, and after a year I thought I was going to lose my shit. It didn't pay very much, but I don't think that would have really helped.
I like my current job a lot - the deadlines, initiative, and detail (like spelling "initiative" correctly - second try!) are undeniably stressful in some way, but they're also, like, why I took the job. The worst thing about it is actually my lack of exposure to the outside environment, which is in large part why I started biking again. Obviously I didn't take a Web editor job expecting to clear brush, but I don't really consider it a benefit.
Yes, we all know that jobs, like people, are unique and special snowflakes, but even given that, the CareerCast survey is hell of creepy, and calling it a ranking of the "best jobs" moves past attention-trolling into really openly malign influence. It's not just that the criteria are slippery, because any project like this will involve counting lots of angels on lots of pinheads, but they actually run counter to most of what I've experienced, heard, seen, and read about jobs with regard to quality of life.
Update: It's "regard to," not "regards to," right? They're correct, detail sucks.