You probably wouldn't expect it, but the best paid boat captains in the U.S. are in Tennessee. According to data from the Department of Labor, water vessel captains, mates and pilots make more there than in any other state. In fact, the average in Tennessee is a full $27,000 more a year than the national average for the job.
The top 10% of earners among ship captains nationwide make at least $108,120 a year. Not bad. You might even get a bonus anytime you perform one of those last-minute shipboard weddings.
Gaming managers, the people who supervise gambling operations, also pull in a pretty penny at the top. Pennsylvania pays its gaming managers better than any other state, but it's only got about 30 of them, compared with 340 in California and 590 in Nevada, the second- and third-best-paying states for the job.
The information for our list of surprising six-figure jobs comes from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, which are compiled from 2008 data.
Of the 15 jobs we've singled out, human resources manager and pharmacist are the only two where not only some but most people make six figures; to make the cut, at least 10% of the people doing the thing must earn more than $100,000. Music directors and composers make a solid $107,280 or more in the top decile, but on average they pull down just $54,840. Pharmacist is the job on the list that the most people do--about 266,000 of them in the U.S.
Astronomers fall just $270 a year short of averaging six figures, and the top earners in their modestly sized group of 1,280 rake in $156,720 or more.
You might also be surprised to hear that arbitrators and mediators make the six-figure cut for top earners. Their work might sound like just helping settle other people's arguments, but it's also about helping people avoid astronomical legal fees. Most states have no requirements for entering the field of mediation, except in a few cases like handling child custody battles in California, so it could be a relatively easy line of work to get into.
So might transportation inspector. Only 14.8% of people with that job have a college diploma. Only 24% of gaming managers do.
Other six-figure possibilities: art director, police supervisor and video editor.
Job prospects are slim just about everywhere right now. But at least some jobs, when you get them, pay well.