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ATA Salary Survey, 2006

Every year the American Translators Association surveys its membership to find out general information about income, education, experience, and type of work. What is most apparent when reading the results is that the numbers do not reflect what is going on in the industry in general.

First, the nature of the respondents and their responses.

• All respondents are all ATA members

• More than half of them have a graduate degree

• More than half of them have been working in the translation and interpretation professions for over 10 years.

• About two-thirds are women

• About two-thirds were born outside the United States

In other words, these people represent the most successful, established, and capable members of the translation profession. And remember, you make more money by working in the country of your B language, so this further skews the results.

The ATA also gives numbers as follows (the below are for full-time only):

• In-house private sector: $58,147

• Independent contractor: $54,207

• Government translator: $54,305

So how do these experienced people compare with others? I checked the data available for translators nationwide in the U.S. from Salary.com:

• Median income: $40,522

• Highest 25%: $49,536

• Lowest 25%: $33,985

According to the Department of Labor's Occupational Outlook Handbook, earnings for translators were by hour

• $16.28 in May, 2004

• $9.67 for the lowest 10%

• $27.45 for the highest 10%

The handbook also notes that earnings vary depending on language, subject matter, skill, experience, education, and market demand. Further, it states: "Individuals classified as language specialists for the Federal Government earned an average of $71,625 annually in 2005. Limited information suggests that some highly skilled interpreters and translators—for example, high-level conference interpreters—working full time can earn more than $100,000 annually."

So there is quite a difference between the ATA's results and other data available to the public from reliable sources. I suspect the disparity comes from two sources:

1. People tend to over-report their income

2. ATA members represent a select group within the translation profession

In any event, newcomers to the profession should not expect their salaries to begin to approach the numbers reported by the ATA, and the ATA itself should make some effort to put its results into a greater context for the benefit of everyone inside and outside the industry.

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