From a young age, society seems to teach that whatever we choose to do with our lives, it must pay well. Salary becomes paramount and is often tied to how much happiness one will experience in their chosen career. It’s not until doing the job that one realizes money and happiness aren’t necessarily tied to one another. This sentiment is echoed in APCO’s Project RETAINS and confirmed when examining the salaries for 911 dispatchers across the country, and across oceans.
Looking at the sections of the Project RETAINS Final Report related to pay and benefits offers several surprises. Hourly pay ranked fourth in the order of importance to communications center staff retention. Telecommunicators feel the factors of, 1) whether a center is fully staffed, 2) average overtime hours per month, and, 3) job complexity, were more important than base pay. At larger centers, calltakers made a bit more money than dispatchers, but nearly 80% of those interviewed reported that dispatchers and calltakers made the same amount of money. Interestingly, there was no correlation between an employee’s pay and his/her job satisfaction.
Comparing salaries from around the country and around the globe, it is easy to see that many people who do this job are content and satisfied because of the work itself. Because, as the data shows, it’s certainly not for the money. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2019 there was an estimated 98,000 dispatchers in the country with the career expected to grow by 6% between 2019 and 2029. The quantity of emergency operators working in centers around the world is difficult to discern based on publicly available data, but it’s clear from posted pay data that emergency operators in countries outside the U.S. don’t do it for the money either. In fact, our international colleagues under the headset deal with much less pay than their American counterparts. For example, according to the Economic Research Institute, when converted to dollar figures:
- In Ireland, a dispatcher’s annual salary is $34,128
- In the UK, $26,678
- Australia, $35,711
- Canada, $28,381
Given this information, maybe salaries here at home aren’t that bad. In fact, when looking deeper into the information from our own country, it’s safe to say that if you’re a telecommunicator, America is the place to be. The national average is $48,232 annually. Here are some additional figures from across the country according to ziprecruiter.com:
- Ohio, average annual salary is $43,306
- Maine, $47,581
- Hawaii, $46,808
- Nevada, $44,187
- North Dakota, $44,289
- Georgia, $43,281
- Texas, $38,467
America may pay telecommunicators more but after comparing the cost of living to the pay, the numbers may not seem so spectacular. Again from ziprecruiter.com, the highest average salary for telecommunicators is $53,650, in New York. How might this salary relate to cost of living? According to bestplaces.net, the cost of living is quantified based on an average score of 100. Meaning any number below 100, the cost of living is cheaper than the country’s average. Any number above 100, it is more expensive than the country’s average. Using this metric, the cost of living in New York is 187.2.
Let’s put that into perspective. Using the average salary for Ohio, $43,306, if you wanted to move to New York, NY, to be a 911 operator, your salary would have to be $114,538, according to nerdwallet.com, to enjoy the same standard of living. Using the same formula, we can look at North Carolina, with the lowest average salary of all the 50 states at $35,408. The average cost of living in NC is 90.6. That means if you want to leave the Tar Heel State (NC) for the Heart of Rock ‘n’ Roll (OH), you only need to make $34,856 to maintain the same living standards. Given that, if you become employed in Ohio and make $43,306, you are off to a better start from the beginning.
No matter where they work, emergency dispatchers across the globe perform essential duties under taxing conditions, without the pay that normally comes with such responsibility. As the life-saving link between citizens and the help they need, it’s safe to say that dispatchers deserve more recognition. And which dispatcher wouldn’t love it if one of the forms of recognition included salary and benefits commensurate with the rigors of the role? In the meantime, it helps to keep the positive aspects of the job in clear view: we make a difference, we save lives and, most days, that’s motivation enough.
Author’s note: This is one of the last columns you will see in this space. It’s been fun combining the two things that have been such a large and important part of my life: writing and dispatching. I hope while reading this column you gained some knowledge along the way and the information from it will help you in the future. The column that follows will be the last. It’ll be a little different and a little fun, too. Stay tuned.