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What Is The Actual Median Annual Pay for US Translators and Interpreters?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) recently updated reporting on the median pay for translators and interpreters to $49,930, or $24/hr. But inaccuracies in prevailing wages rate determinations and missing survey data may be depressing the stat ... and contractors’ compensation.

When the government needs things done by a third party, i.e. a service contractor, it must abide by the price guidelines or “price rate” established by the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The BLS averages data on workers’ wages and labels it the “prevailing wage rate” of that particular service industry.

This “official rate” has huge implications. It acts as both a benchmark to which many government departments must adhere when buying services, and sends a larger message to the market on what the perceived worth and year-over-year growth of an industry is.

In reality, translators average between $42.30 – $55.44/hr and interpreters average between $55.87 – $124.68/hr.

Unfortunately for language service providers, the current BLS prevailing wage rate for translators and interpreters is inaccurate due to limitations in the survey methodology.

While the vast majority of the language workforce is composed of independent contractors, or 1099s, BLS only collects data on regular W-2 employees, significantly skewing the statistic to as low as $23/hr. BLS added a “self-employed” category several years ago, but as yet to offer any data for median annual pay on its Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) report.

In reality, according to the American Translators Association’s (ATA) 2017 Compensation Survey translators average between $42.30 – $55.44/hr, while interpreters average between $55.87 – $124.68/hr. The ATA survey accounted for both W-2 employees and 1099 workers.

This gap comes at a significant lost to the language services providers with respect to contracting with the federal government for translation and interpreting services in instances when the OES data serves, in some cases statutorily, as the benchmark for compensation in bidding estimates.

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