Machinists are skilled tradespeople at the heart of the manufacturing process. They're the ones who manufacture parts out of metal, or -- just as importantly -- manufacture the tools to make the parts. They also help maintain the machines. Like other skilled tradespeople, most machinists begin as apprentices before assuming the higher responsibilities and pay of a journeyman.
According to May 2011 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics' (BLS), the median income for machinists was $39,220 per year, or $18.86 per hour. The lowest 25 percent of earners among machinists reported annual incomes of $31,180 or less. The highest 25 percent of machinists reported annual incomes of $48,190 or more. The State of Michigan's careers portal advises students that apprentice machinists earn an average of 50 to 75 percent of a journeyman's pay, so the median income figure is likely to include the majority of journeymen.
Although journeyman certification plays a role in the machinist's wages, so does the workplace. The majority of machinists work in small machine shops, where the average annual pay is $38,780, according to the BLS. Employment services are the second-largest employer, paying a mean $33,920 per year. Manufacturers of metalworking machinery are the third-largest employer. They pay an average of $40,080 per year. Natural gas distribution companies hire few machinists, but pay them an industry-leading $74,290 per year. Schools are another low-volume employer with high pay, at $65,560 per year on average. Electrical generation companies paid their machinists an average of $64,880 per year. Auto parts manufacturers nationally paid an average of $42,210 per year, or $20.29 per hour. But Detroit's automakers paid an average of $26.68 to $26.90 per hour for similar work.
Areas that are remote, have high living costs or higher-than-average demand for machinists all offer higher-than-average wages. The District of Columbia's machinists led the nation with an average annual income of $67,710 in the BLS survey. Hawaii, Alaska, Washington and Delaware were also among the top-paying states. Arkansas had the lowest average pay in the country, at a mean $34,180. South Dakota, West Virginia, Iowa and Mississippi were also among the lowest-paying states.
Employment for machinists in the United States is not expected to grow rapidly. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects job growth of only 7 percent between 2010 and 2020, much slower than the employment market as a whole. This is partly due to manufacturers moving production offshore, and partly due to the increased use of computerization and mechanization, which reduces the need for traditional journeyman machinists. However, the move to more sophisticated machinery might also create openings for a new generation of tech-savvy, formally trained machinists capable of operating these high-tech pieces of equipment.