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The good old days seem so long ago

The unemployment rate is the lowest it’s been since April 2008, but pay packets are still noticeably thinner than they were before the bubble burst – especially for lawyers.

According to a report published this month by the National Employment Law Project, real wages have declined since 2009 for most U.S. workers. This pinch has been strikingly uniform in its reach, afflicting almost all of the most commonly held occupations, but has hit some jobs harder than others.

The NELP looked at nearly 800 occupations, breaking them down into quintiles based on their hourly median wages, and then focused on the 10 jobs with the highest employment in each quintile. Lawyering was the eighth most-common profession in the top quintile, with just over 600,000 people working as lawyers in 2014.

Among the top-10 occupations in the top quintile, lawyers have taken by far the biggest hit in wages since 2009. Real median wages for lawyers have sagged by 8.7 percent in that span. Across all quintiles, only two occupations, both in the restaurant business, did worse.

Lawyers are unlikely, however, to garner much sympathy, for two reasons above and beyond the public’s general disregard for their troubles. First, despite the recent drop in wages, lawyers remain the best-paid profession of the lot, bringing home a median hourly wage of $55.22 in 2014. (Doctors, bankers and movie stars all failed to crack the top 10 by volume.) Second, it’s rough all over out there – the NELP found wages down in 49 of the 50 most common occupations.

The only exception to the rule was executive secretaries and administrative assistants, whose paychecks have climbed more than 10 percent since 2009. Notably, however, that category excludes lawyers’ secretaries, who are most likely in the same boat with their bosses.

– By David Donovan

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