Emerging Job Trends for Young Adults

What are the most popular and highest-paying jobs for young professionals these days? To find out, we collected state-level data from IPUMS Current Population Survey (CPS) on adults aged 22-35 (elder Gen Zers and younger millennials) to explore the most common occupations for young adults, as well as salaries. The data obtained is from 2020 to December 2022 to show how jobs and salaries have changed.

After determining their professions and salaries over the past few years, we surveyed over 1,000 of them about their job satisfaction and career goals. The results offer a glimpse into the financial and job landscape of today's young working adults.

Which Careers Attract Young Adults

First, we examined the most popular careers among young adults in 2022 and determined which ones have risen in popularity.

Study: Most popular jobs among young professionals

Over the past few years, the top five careers chosen by young, emerging professionals were:

  • Registered nurse
  • Elementary/middle school teacher
  • Retail manager
  • Customer service representative
  • Driver/trucker

Software development ranked 7th overall and was a popular career in some coastal metro areas of the U.S., but mainly among the higher age range of young professionals. Our survey revealed that only a quarter of Gen Z had taken an interest in it. The young professionals holding jobs in software development were mostly living in these states:

  • New York
  • Virginia
  • California
  • Washington
  • Maryland

That's no surprise when you consider that New York City, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles are among the cities with the most jobs in tech. Seattle is also known for its concentration of tech jobs, and it's also America's top destination for recent college graduates. And since those cities are also famous for their high cost of living, it's a good thing that tech careers tend to pay well.

Electrician jobs have also increased in popularity since 2021 by 7% — the highest increase of all the careers we studied. Computer occupations had the second-highest popularity growth among young professionals(6%). And then, there was a three-way tie for third place, with the following jobs all seeing a 5% increase:

  • Driver/trucker
  • Construction laborer
  • Courier/messenger

Meanwhile, the five least popular jobs among young professionals were:

  • Etcher/engraver
  • Podiatrist
  • Print binder/finisher
  • Adhesive bonding machine operator
  • Proofreader/copy marker

A Salary Snapshot of Young Professionals

Aside from tech, which other careers have been especially lucrative for young professionals?

Study: highest paying jobs for young professionals

Lawyers earn some of the best pay in the American workforce, and the youngest workers in the field are no exception. We found that young lawyers (ages 22-35) make an average of almost $150,000 per year. However, most are likely on the older end of that scale; 88% of the Gen Zers we surveyed told us they don't want to be lawyers. Maybe that's why it didn't make the top 10 most popular jobs, despite the high pay.

Physician's assistant jobs haven't attracted much interest from Gen Z either. Although this field can pay over $110,000 annually, just 10% of Gen Z said they'd choose it.

Other jobs with the highest average pay for young professionals included:

  • Securities, commodities, and financial services sales agent ($134,029)
  • Web developer ($120,595)
  • Architectural and engineering manager ($115,875)
  • Software developer ($113,066)

But these figures can change over time and vary by location. When we compared 2021 average salaries to those in 2022, we found the Gen Zers and millennials who worked in Tennessee had the biggest salary increase over the past year (+29%). Meanwhile, those in nearby South Carolina saw the steepest dip (-15%). Young professionals' salaries also decreased in:

  • West Virginia
  • Indiana
  • Virginia
  • Michigan
  • Connecticut
  • Massachusetts

Income Aspirations

Beyond their current salary, how much do these Gen Zers and millennials hope to make in the future? Let's explore their sentiments about their pay and what they're working toward.

Survey: Young professionals' salary goals

Young professionals are aiming high. More than half (58%) told us they're unsatisfied with their current salary. Age-wise, these responses were almost evenly split between Gen Z and millennials, with millennials being slightly more likely to feel this way. For those looking for more income, freelancing might be a good option to consider.

Another way to earn more money is to push for a raise, and nearly all respondents (96%) feel they deserve one this year. On average, they would be happy with a 17% increase in salary. But one quarter said they'd like a 10% raise, making that the most commonly chosen percentage increase.

In their long-term view, the average salary young adults said would make them feel they've finally "made it" is $121,553 per year. That's well above the median American income, which was $69,717 in 2021.

Moving Forward

Some young professionals are unsatisfied with their current earnings, but it's important to keep in mind that they're near the beginning of their careers, and salaries can increase with experience. For those looking to feel like they "made it" sooner rather than later, becoming a lawyer, financial services sales agent, or web developer is a good bet.

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We collected state-level data from IPUMS Current Population Survey (CPS) on adults aged 22-35 to explore the most common occupations for young adults as well as salaries. The data obtained is from 2020 to December 2022 so we could see how jobs and salaries have changed in the past few years. We conducted a short survey of 1,004 respondents aged 21-42. Of respondents, 17% were aged 21-26, 75% were aged 27-35, and 7% were aged 36-42. We also conducted a survey of 581 freelancers. 18% were Gen Z, 47% were millennials, 25% were Gen X and 11% were baby boomers.

Fair Use Statement

If our findings have you considering a career change or the financial plight of our younger generations, we'd love for you to share them for any non-commercial purpose. But please include a link to our page to credit our research.