Backhoe operators make the earth move. That sounds like the text of a comedy bumper sticker, but it also describes their occupation. Backhoe operators use the buckets of these vehicles to excavate and shift material for construction projects. They are directed by site foremen and must be cognizant of any underground cables, water and electrical systems. They work with a variety of materials, from sand and earth to gravel and asphalt. Salary levels for the occupation are comparable to those of other construction equipment operators.
For the purposes of its May 2010 analysis of employment trends across the country, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics categorized backhoe operators alongside other construction equipment operators and operating engineers. It reported that the mean yearly wage for this occupational grouping was $44,830, which translates into an hourly pay rate of $21.55. Operators in the top 10 percent of earners received salaries of $71,310 or more per year, while their colleagues in the corresponding bottom bracket earned $26,460 or less.
Earnings by Industry
The bureau also showed how salaries can vary across different sectors of the construction industry. Construction equipment operators working in highway, street and bridge construction earned a mean annual salary of $49,520. Rates were similar for utility system construction, at $47,850, and other heavy and civil engineering construction, at $47,710. Salary levels for these types of equipment operators working for other specialty trade contractors were reported at a mean of $44,840. Construction equipment operators also work for government agencies. The bureau listed the mean annual pay for such workers employed by local governments as $39,820, while at state level the rate was given as $34,680.
Earnings by Geography
The bureau's survey also showed how salary levels for construction equipment operators varies between locations. At state level it reported that pay rates were highest in Hawaii and California, with means of $64,610 and $63,990, respectively. In contrast, Texas was listed at $35,060. The most lucrative metropolitan area was given as the New York-White Plains-Wayne district of New York State, which had an annual mean of $82,760. It was followed by the Kankakee-Bradley area of Illinois at $79,540. Construction equipment operators in the Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta area of Georgia had a considerably lower annual average wage of $34,620.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that employment opportunities for construction equipment workers, including backhoe operators, will grow by approximately 12 percent over the ten years from 2008 to 2018. This is in line with projected growth for the nation as a whole, which the bureau put at between 7 and 13 percent over the same period. Likely rises in federal investment in infrastructure renewal, combined with growth in construction to meet the needs of an expanding population, will be the primary fuels for this growth, and should see salary levels within the profession remain competitive.