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  5. Americans with a college degree say they'd need at least a $100K salary to change jobs. But roles that pay in that range are getting harder to find.

Americans with a college degree say they'd need at least a $100K salary to change jobs. But roles that pay in that range are getting harder to find.

Jacob Zinkula,Juliana Kaplan   

Americans with a college degree say they'd need at least a $100K salary to change jobs. But roles that pay in that range are getting harder to find.
  • College-educated Americans say they'd need at least a $100,000 salary, on average, to change jobs.
  • But higher-paying jobs are getting harder to find.

A $100,000-a-year salary used to be something most Americans dreamed about. But nowadays, some workers have no interest in a job if it doesn't pay six figures.

In the New York Fed's Survey of Consumer Expectations, a nationally representative survey of roughly 1,300 US households, respondents provide their reservation wage — the lowest annual wage they'd be willing to accept for a new job.

As of the most recent March data, the average reservation wage for Americans with a college degree rose to a survey-high of $99,081, up from $97,270 in March 2023 and $81,758 in March 2020.

Experts say the sharp rise in the reservation wage in recent years could be due in part to high worker satisfaction at their current jobs, enhanced worker bargaining power, and the desire to keep up with the rising costs of food, housing, cars, childcare, and other expenses. But there's a problem for Americans who are looking for a six-figure income: Jobs that pay this well aren't super common — and they may be getting even harder to come by.

The median weekly earnings for full-time workers aged 25 and older with a Bachelor's degree is $1,493, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That's about $78,000 over the course of a year — quite a ways from $100,000. And, on average, job hunters overall are getting offered $73,668 when they receive new full-time offers, per the NY Fed data — further showcasing the disparity between what some Americans want out of jobs, and how much they're actually making.

Additionally, there's evidence that the job market for high-wage roles has cooled.

A Vanguard report published in March found that the hiring rate has held steady for workers who earn less than $55,000 a year, but has fallen for workers in the top third of earners — who make over $96,000 — to its lowest level since 2014. It means that not as many Americans are landing new jobs that pay in the six-figure range.

What's more, overall job growth slowed in April, and the sectors that added the most jobs were generally lower-paying, including retail trade, wholesale trade, transportation and warehousing, and healthcare and social assistance. Higher-paying sectors, including manufacturing, construction, and professional and business services, saw slower job growth — each of these sectors has fewer job openings than they did a year or two ago.

When job openings were at record highs in 2022, more Americans were able to switch jobs to get higher pay. But the job market isn't quite as accommodating today, among the reasons the job-switching rate has fallen — and the Great Resignation has turned into the Big Stay.

To be sure, it's not just college-educated Americans who have raised their pay expectations.

The average reservation wage for people without a degree was $68,390, up from $59,683 in March 2023 and $48,778 in March 2020. The average reservation wage among all respondents was $81,822, up from $75,811 and $61,377 in March 2020.

While lower-income workers have generally seen strong wage growth in recent years relative to higher earners — and may face a more favorable job market — job openings and wage growth have declined across most sectors over the last year.

Where to find a $100,000-a-year job

If you're on the hunt for a $100,000 salary, certain career paths could be more promising.

An analysis published last fall by the job-listing site Ladders found that the 10 most popular job titles that paid more than $100,000 included software engineer, licensed clinical social worker, systems engineer, and project manager.

If one is curious about how well a certain job pays, the Bureau of Labor Statistics provides the average annual wages of over 1,000 different job titles. With an average annual wage of nearly $450,000, pediatric surgeons come out on top.

Lastly, some college majors could put one on a better path to a six-figure income. A New York Fed analysis found that college graduates who majored in one of 14 areas of study had a median mid-career wage of at least $100,000 a year. One area of study accounted for nine of the 14 spots: engineering.

Are you struggling to find a six-figure job? Contact these reporters at and