Underpaid, overworked, and underappreciated and what to do about it

Part 1: Underpaid and overworked

Ever felt like you pour your heart and soul out for pennies?

Ever wished you would have been a lawyer or a doctor instead?

Paying off student loan bills that are more than you make in a year?

Still love your freaking job and wouldn’t change it for the world?

You must be in the animal field. Whether you’re a zookeeper, animal trainer, dog trainer, vet tech, or identify as anything else, how on earth are you supposed to live on this salary?

Over the next three blog posts we’re going to talk about managing your money when you don’t make any. First we have to talk to about how much we’re talking about? There’s a lot of range in this field. From the tiny, mom and pop run zoo paying their keepers $10/hr if they’re lucky, to the city and state ran union zoos paying $25/hr, zoos and aquariums pay quite the variety!

So what’s the average?

Here’s what I found in my research?

$25,000 is average salary for zookeepers $12.02/hr


$28,000 is average salary for zookeepers $13.46/hr


$33,134 is average salary for zookeepers $15.90/hr


So who else makes about that much per year? Here’s a list of other jobs/careers that pay similar to zoos and aquariums, ($30,000/year or less) $14.40/hour:

Typists, vet technicians, truck drivers, mechanics, school nurse, security guard, construction worker, preschool teachers, licensed practitioner nurses (LPN’s), brick layer, roofer, agricultural worker, factory workers, bellhops, groundskeepers, dental assistants, crane operators, ambulances drivers, actors, accounting clerks, and bank tellers.

(source: http://www.infojug.com/career-articles/list-different-careers-salaries.html)

I would argue that many of these positions work physically and mentally harder than we do in our field. It’s also likely that the majority of the careers on that list don’t receive the same benefits (health insurance, paid time off, etc) that many city and state run zoos offer. Lastly, I don’t know about you but none of them are nearly as fun as my job is!

So are we underpaid? Are we overworked?

Well the poverty level for a single individual under the age of 65 is $12,752/year. While the median HOUSEHOLD income (that’s everyone in the home), is $59,039 (source: US Census bureau). That puts 32% of Americans earning less than $35,000/year. If you’re a zookeeper making under $16.83 you’re joining ⅓ of the United States’ population. (source https://www.investopedia.com/financial-edge/0912/which-income-class-are-you.aspx)

Now if you put in the time, have the experience, and work really hard not to be a jerk, you’re going to move up and out of that 32% and join the 41% of the population that makes between $35K and $100K/year by being management in a zoo or aquarium. The average curator salary is about $59K/year (https://www.simplyhired.com/salaries-k-curator-of-mammals-jobs.html).

So how come a third of the United States is making it work and we aren’t? (Okay some of you are, but man we sure complain about it a lot).

I’ll tell you why…..they don’t think they’re special.

But seriously, just cruise through the posts on zookreepers for a day. The most popular and most shared are “woe is me” blog posts, “why are all our guests so stupid”, and “what’s the most recent catastrophe occuring in the world” that we aren’t contributing too. We all seem to be living with insane hero complexes and suffering from compassion fatigue, because we just care so much more than the average human.

Step one is recognizing that you’re not alone. Misery loves company so it’s easy to commiserate and sometimes we need that, but it’s also hard to make your money situation better without support of people who know what you’re going through. Make a list, who is living your same condition or close who can be your support group?  

Step two is starting to focus on the positives of what you have. You chose this field for a reason, likely because it lights you up inside. Make another list of all the awesome things about your life, your animals, your friends, and your opportunities and keep adding to them!

Want a way to track your progress? Email us about how to get your very own gratitude journal!

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