Feb
28
2007

The worst job in America?

They call Economics “the dismal science” because it pays no attention to questions of right and wrong, good and evil, but only looks at supply and demand, profit and loss. But even with that limitation, it still helps illuminate certain moral precepts.

Take for instance the old adage “crime doesn't pay.” According to economist Steven Levitt (WARNING: 22-minute video, with occasional objectionable language), the worst job in America is drug dealer. Not only does it ruin lives; not only does it bring crime and violence that destroys entire neighborhoods; it simply doesn't pay well:

  • The average dealer earns $3.50 an hour – well under minimum wage.
  • There is little opportunity for advancement.
  • The death rate is extremely high. Not only is a dealer more likely to die on the job than a soldier on active duty; a dealer is seven times more likely to die in a given year than an inmate on death row!

Even without considering legality or morality, the math shows: dealing drugs is a pretty dumb way to make a living.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

bryan kennedy's picture

Steven Levitt has a great blog that I regularly read based around the book that he wrote with Stephen J. Dubner, Freakonomics.

posted on Thu, 03/01/2007 - 1:28pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Are you serious b/c that is based off of a small drug dealers. It is actually millionaire drug dealers and for the most part the people who are actually making money in drugs are the people you least expect to sale drugs. For example: lawyers, politicians, marshal, etc. You obviously don't know any drug dealers( just watching to much TV), and you are making opinions off that not real life.

posted on Mon, 04/23/2007 - 11:38am
Gene's picture
Gene says:

Watch the tape. Or, better yet, read the book. This is based on the best, most thorough examination of an inner-city drug operation ever conducted. A very, very tiny number of gang bosses make huge amounts of money. The vast majority of people in the drug trade make lousy pay for extremely dangerous work.

posted on Mon, 04/23/2007 - 4:01pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

The statistics are for street-level dealers, meaning the person that does the transaction with the actual consumer. The research is not about how much money is made on drugs in total, but how much money is made by people doing this particular job. It pays very little even though it is high-risk, so it is a very bad job in that sense. The only reason that people do it, is because they hope to go higher up, where they would make a lot of money. Considering the chances of getting there are small, it is probably not recommended. If you want to make a lot of money, there are smarter ways with less risk of death, even in the drug business.

posted on Fri, 04/20/2012 - 3:33pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

What people should be doing to keep kids from selling drugs is going into the poor communities and trying to make a difference. We shouldn't post things like this on the internet b/c children in those communities alot of times don't have a choice. Their entire family is on drugs, and the only way they have to survive is that. We shouldn't just talk but make a difference, and state facts to our children not fiction b/c the truth is all these kids see is drug dealers driving fancy cars with wheels. They don't see them with $3.50 they see them with lots of money. I see it everyday and I am telling kids the truth, but why they shouldn't do it

posted on Mon, 04/23/2007 - 11:43am
Gene's picture
Gene says:

People always have a choice. Choices are often hard, and often between two bad options.

I don't agree that we should not talk about this. First of all, it's the truth. And we can't make choices or form opinions without good information. Second, knowing just how bad life is for a drug dealer may help some kids make better choices. (We can explain to them the guys with lots of money and fancy cars are the gang leaders. But for every one of them, there's maybe a hundred street peddlers, making lousy money, getting shot at, and having no chance for the big bucks.)

But I do agree with you when you say we can't just talk; we also need to act.

posted on Mon, 04/23/2007 - 4:05pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Of course, this the inner city area where so many people are competing for drug turf, so there probably would be less profit to made since the drug dealer market is so saturated. When I was in a suburban high school, I knew a kid in print shop that was driving a very luxury red mustang convertible and was dealing cocaine and other drugs. In the same town, another good friend showed a me wallet packed with hundred dollar bills. He could barely fold it with all that money. Of course you can make thousands of dollars in short period of period time dealing, but if you get busted then it can boil down to cents per dollar spread out over five years in the slammer. Unfortunately too many teens are too shortsighted, looking for adventure and reputation, thinking they are invincible and that's why they make great drug dealers in the market. According to the government's National Survey on Drug Use and Health, nearly a million kids sell illegal drugs each year. If you're a white kid in the safe suburb and not living with your parents, then there's plenty of money to be made if your careful. If you live in the drug dealer-saturated inner-city "drug war zone" swarming with cops pulling people over for the slightest infraction, you're just one of hundreds/thousands in your neighborhood fighting over the same bone and, if you deal crack cocaine, you will probably taste more and more of your own product and that will certainly chunk out of your profit. The point is that it depends on your skin color, which illegal drugs (pot, ecstasy, acid, crack, speed etc. etc.) you're dealing and what side of town you're doing business.

posted on Thu, 07/26/2007 - 2:46pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

I very much agree with your statement and have seen this situation first hand. There are definitely some drugs that have a much higher percentage of profit compared to other drugs. also depends on your geographical location and which type of drugs to sell. I dont' think it is fair to just state that dealing drugs is the worst job in America because there are plenty of horrible jobs that people do not see. I think that since doing something is inevitably a choice... the people that do decide to sell drugs see an opportunity to do something and make some money. because in the end that is what the main goal is. to make money. I have a hard time believing that people who do sell drugs sell it just to mess up the community. i think that jobs that illegal immigrants take are much worse in terms of hard breaking labor. people who do sells drugs... or atleast the ones that i know of, all do it as a side way of making some extra money. because whether anyone likes the fact that drugs are rampant in this country is not the issue. its the issue of supply and demand. if there is going to be a demand there will always be somebody there to fill it. when the price of lets say cocaine skyrockets its' because of the illegal demand for the drug.

i'm not saying drug dealing is a good thing or anything like that but i do think that people need to see beyond the white and black book that we have all been taught at an early age. what do you, the people of this country think?

posted on Thu, 10/04/2007 - 6:21pm
bryan kennedy's picture

Aw c'mon, all you've got to do is watch the great TV show Weeds to see that dealing drugs in the rich white suburbs is hard times also, although maybe not as hard as on the Wire. Sorry I don't know any drug dealers, I just watch them on TV.

It would be interesting to see a statistical survey of the motivations behind drug dealing. I suspect that you are right that money is the driving force, but a scientific and psychological look at the people behind the issues could be revealing.

posted on Fri, 10/05/2007 - 10:25am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

I live in Baltimore and have seen firsthand that drugs do kill communities. Sure, selling coke to rich sub-urban white kids might be a profitable venture and probably won't mess up Daddy and Mommy's well-groomed lawn, but god forbid you ever do get caught and end up sharing a cell with an inner-city hopper. Sorry kid, there is no street-cred in being a preppy white-boy with a nice car, and by-and-large dealers are from the inner city. This leads to increased traffic of junkies and crack-whores whichs leads to a decline in respectible people in the neighborhood (who wants to raise kids around junkies?).

And if you think suburban drug dealers don't get caught you have an other thing coming as well. I personally know a few from my white, preppy private university days that are now probably tossing an inner-city dealer in prison because they slipped up once. And everyone slips up once...

posted on Sun, 10/07/2007 - 9:13pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Drug dealers are every where in the schools and residential areas. I live in Dallas, Tx and they exist in well-to-do areas such as Plano, TX (remember the heroin epidemic) as well as low-income South Dallas. I would fully support locking them all up if it worked but for everyone they lock up there seems to be three more willing to take their place, three more job openings for youth to fill. The more I hear about this drug market anarchy, the more I ask myself "how are kids and communities much safer with corner stores selling booze and highly addictive cigarettes and dealers selling marijuana and other drugs to kids in schools and residential areas?" Often times the debate over how to handle the drug market (legal and illegal) is restricted to two options: Poorly regulated legal drug markets (or unrestricted legalization) versus Total Prohibition policies that only breed more drug dealers and gangs in our residential areas and schools who create more demand for drugs. There is no serious discussion over middle ground solutions.

posted on Mon, 11/19/2007 - 4:17pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

If's he's makng $3.50 an hr he's stupid

posted on Mon, 03/03/2008 - 8:09am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

the bloke who authored that article is an idiot. why would people bother facing years in prison for importing and distributing drugs to make $3.50 an hour? its simple logic for gods sake. i know some dealers and they make a hell of a lot more than that

posted on Mon, 08/25/2008 - 5:06am
Gene's picture
Gene says:

Read the article all the way through. It is well-researched and documented. Yes, a few big shots at the top of the gang hierarchy make the big bucks. The foot soldiers on the street corners are getting shot at for $3.50 an hour. Part of it is lack of other opportunity; part of it is being conned, deliberately or not, into thinking they might someday rise to the top. Few do.

posted on Tue, 08/26/2008 - 4:46pm
gordwick's picture
gordwick says:

Well most drug dealers are drug addicts and don't do this to make a living, they do this to have a constant drug supply, this is their priority. Yes, it's a dumb way to make money because the risks are really high, I tend to believe they don't really care about that because they feel miserable already, being a drug dealer doesn't exactly give you any work satisfaction. So, if I were a drug dealer I would consider a addiction treatment and put an end to my nightmare.

posted on Wed, 09/03/2008 - 6:46am
bryan kennedy's picture

I wonder if that is true. Are most drug dealers, addicts as well? I am sure there are some studies out there on that subject. My folklore understanding is exactly the opposite. But that isn't based on anything other than some TV shows...obviously bad evidence in a science conversation.

posted on Wed, 09/03/2008 - 12:03pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

you guys are way off first off rule #1 is don't get high off your own supply. and where u get the figure $3.50/hr is just ridiculous. let's see $700-$800 an ounce 28 grams per ounce each gram sells for $100= $2800 per ounce profit of $2000 let's say it takes 5 days to get rid of an ounce that's $400 a day that is $16.67/hr working all 24 hours in a day.

posted on Thu, 12/04/2008 - 5:30pm
Gene's picture
Gene says:

We get the figure from an extremely thorough, well-documented study. Most of the profit goes to the gang boss, not to the street-level dealer.

posted on Sat, 12/06/2008 - 9:50pm
Roosevelt81's picture
Roosevelt81 says:

The moral here? Dope (and dope dealing) is for dopes.

posted on Thu, 12/04/2008 - 7:36pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

The thing that a lot of you aren't realizing is that it isn't just the money that makes the job terrible. It's the people. People who are in the drug business tend to be of the "kill you as soon as look at you" type, addicts and dealers alike. These are people who will not hesitate to take you out in the woods and shoot you ten times in the head: I have seen the skull of a young man where just such a thing happened. I'm not saying that everyone who gets into drugs is automatically a bad person, but since these drugs are illegal, the market's going to be unregulated and underground, which is where you get the bad apples.

posted on Sun, 12/07/2008 - 11:44am
CV's picture
CV says:

3.50 an hour? thats 84 a day. ive seen a half pound of dirt weed sell in a day(in a town with 5000 people i might add. more like 33 an hour. if some low end peddler is only makin that much hes just dumb.

BUT that 84 a day. thats 10 an hour on a full time job. (this even counts working seven days a week)

min wage here is 7.25 an hour. thats exactly 58 after a full day.

(you dont get shot at in small towns either)

not sayin your wrong. just showing how dumb some dealers are.

posted on Sat, 10/03/2009 - 8:11am
Gene's picture
Gene says:

Your figures assume someone is working 24 hours a day. That is not realistic.

Yes, one sale will bring in a lot of money all at once, but the time between sales brings the average down.

posted on Wed, 12/15/2010 - 4:49pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Gene: For some reason I am thinking that you haven't seen any of this first hand. If you're raised around it you get much more savvy; better connects, bigger crew, cooking methods, and location, location, location. It is a business like any other. You need to play it smarter than the other guy to make any money. (Yes I said smarter, I know...drugs are bad as is selling them, I'm simply illustrating a point) And if you're doing the shooting, then there are less people to shoot at you. Fear is a form of respect in its own way- do you jump into yards with big dogs in them? Hopefully not, so you have to make yourself the "big dog". Emotions are not the best thing in the drug dealing business. Plan your moves, keep your eyes and ears open and pray.

Feel free to come to south dallas to see! Ha

*I do not condone any drug trafficing nor any violence that comes with it :)

posted on Mon, 11/15/2010 - 10:07pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

My problem with this is that they choose a very small sub group of drug dealers. These guys are under paid contractors, not even full time drug dealers. It can pay well and you do have the ability to advance. These guys are doing this at a fixed rate in a pre existing power structure. That's why they make s little.

posted on Sun, 03/18/2012 - 6:38pm

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