Plumbers install and repair piping systems in homes and businesses. Some plumbers fix water and gas lines. Others are specialists, such as steamfitters who work on pipes that carry steam for heating, and sprinkler fitters who specialize in sprinkler systems installed in buildings in case of fire. Plumbers become licensed by undergoing an apprenticeship that usually lasts four or five years.
Median and Average Earnings:
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that plumbers earned an average salary of $24.92 an hour or $51,830 a year as of May 2011. Half of plumbers reported median incomes between $36,050 and $64,790 a year. Apprentices usually make 30 percent to 50 percent of what fully-licensed plumbers earn.
Regionally, the highest pay for plumbers was concentrated in the West, Northeast and Great Lakes region as of May 2011. Alaska ranked first in plumber salaries with an average of $72,050 a year. It was followed by Massachusetts at an average of $66,460, New York at $66,250, Illinois at $64,880 and New Jersey at $64,410. The lowest plumber pay was concentrated in the Southeast. Mississippi ranked last in average pay at $37,370 a year.
Pay by Industry:
The BLS reports that plumbers working in the steel manufacturing industry earned the highest salary by industry, at an average of $66,710 a year. Plumbers in the electric power industry reported the second-highest earnings, averaging $66,580 a year. The largest employer of plumbers by far were building equipment contractors. Average annual income here was $52,390. Those employed by local governments earned an average of $47,970 a year, and plumbers employed by water and sewage companies averaged $45,740 a year.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects employment among plumbers to increase at a rate of 26 percent between 2010 and 2020. That's well above the expected average growth rate of 14 percent for all occupations. Many plumbers are expected to retire in the coming decade, which will create some of the job openings. Demand will also be driven by new building construction and stricter water efficiency standards for plumbing systems, such as low-flow toilets and showerheads.