How Much Does a Garbage Man Make?

Growth Trends for Related Jobs

"Garbage men," are listed under the more appropriate title of "refuse and recyclable material collectors" in the Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH). According to OOH, there were 129,080 refuse and recyclable material collectors in the U.S. in 2008 and their earnings were relatively low. However, waste material collectors earned, on average nationwide, more than any state's minimum hourly wage and in the highest-paying state collectors earned an average of $22.64 per hour. Overall, the nature of the job and the relatively low wages invite frequent turnover, so job openings are plentiful (

Job Tasks

Refuse and recyclable material collectors, or waste collectors, take refuse and recyclables from commercial and residential properties to a recycling facility or a landfill. They use lift trucks and their own arm strength to move and empty cans and dumpsters at locations along a pre-determined route.

National Averages

According to OOH, wages are higher in urban areas and can vary seasonally. In 2008, the national average hourly wage for waste collectors was $15.76 and the average annual income was $32,790. OOH calculates the annual wage by multiplying the hourly average by 2,080 hours. This is about 5.7 hours a day per year, or 40 hours per week. To find out how much refuse collectors earned in 2008 in a particular state, visit and under “Employment,” select "Employment by Occupation." On the next page, select OES Databases, then select “Multi Screen Data Search” and choose “One Occupation for Multiple Geographic Locations.” Choose "Refuse and Recyclables Materials Collectors, and then select the state(s) you are interested in learning about.

Highest-Earning States

In 2008, the states where refuse collectors earned the highest hourly average payment were New York ($22.64), District of Columbia ($20.81), Washington ($20.13), California ($19.77) and Alaska ($19.49). States close behind in the running were Illinois ($18.15) and Wisconsin ($18.06). In Mercer’s 2009 survey, New York City was the eighth-most expensive city in the world. With an annual average earning of $47,080, refuse collectors in New York City may still have a hard time making ends meet, especially those with families.

Lowest-Earning States

The states where refuse collectors earned the lowest hourly average payment in 2008 were Arkansas ($11.15), Alabama ($11.33), South Carolina ($11.41), South Dakota ($11.53) and Tennessee ($11.65). States close behind in the running for lowest earnings were North Carolina ($11.75) and Georgia ($11.83). Arkansas refuse collectors' average wage was $4.9 higher than the state's 2009 minimum wage of $6.25 per hour ( However, with an annual average income of $23,190, a refuse collector in Arkansas, and the other lowest-earning states, will most likely have a difficult time sustaining a family or affording luxuries beyond basic living necessities.

Earnings in the Most Affordable Places to Live

In June 2009, Forbes selected "America's Most Affordable Places to Live," by looking at "reasonably priced homes, everyday expenses and low unemployment" (Pannell 2009). The most affordable city was determined to be Indianapolis, where the minimum wage was $7.25 in 2009. Waste collectors earned an average of $14.33 in 2008 in Indiana, which is below the national average for waste collectors by $1.43. In other words, while waste collectors in Indiana may earn slightly less than the average waste collector in the U.S., the wage is high above the minimum wage of that state and Indianapolis was determined to be the most affordable city in the U.S. Therefore, compared to other more expensive places, it is likely that waste collectors earn a relatively high wage in Indianapolis. For waste collectors looking to move in order to make the best of their relatively low wages, Forbes ranked the second- through fifth-most affordable cities listed as St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Austin.