A grave digger’s job is to physically remove the sod and dirt out of the grave area so that cemetery officials may lower the casket into the ground properly. Normally, modern grave diggers do much of this work with backhoes and other heavy equipment, but they still may do some of the work by hand if necessary. Wages are fairly low — around $25,000 per year as of 2011 — for the occupation.
Grave diggers often are responsible for maintaining cemetery grounds when they are not digging graves. They may mow the grass in the cemetery or ensure that walkways are kept clear of snow or leaves. The way they dig the graves also contributes to the overall look and feel of the cemetery. For this reason, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) classifies grave diggers along with other landscaping and groundskeeping workers. The bureau indicates that, in May, 2010, the average yearly compensation for a groundskeeper in death services was $24,930, or about $11.98 per hour. The overall landscaping and groundskeeping industry saw a wage increase of 0.3 percent between 2009 and 2010.
Workers in the landscaping and groundskeeping category, including grave diggers, in the lowest 10th percentile earned $16,960 per year as of May, 2010, states the BLS. This translates to about $8.16 hourly. In the 90th percentile, pay was $37,240 annually, or $17.90 per hour.
Compensation by Region
The top-paying region for landscaping and groundskeeping workers, including grave diggers, was the District of Columbia, which paid $34,910 per year as of 2010, according to the BLS. Next was Alaska at $32,830, followed by Massachusetts at $31,700. Washington and Connecticut both paid $30,340. On the opposite end of the pay spectrum, West Virginia was the lowest-paying region at $20,740 per year. Mississippi paid $21,720 and Oklahoma $22,130. These figures are fairly consistent with data from the Salary Box website, which shows rates ranging from approximately $24,000 to $34,000 across the United States as of 2010.
Comparison to All Landscaping and Groundskeeping Workers
All landscaping and groundskeeping workers had an average salary of $25,430 as of May, 2010, according to the BLS. The median was $23,400 per year, or $11.25 hourly. This data shows that grave diggers receive pay that is slightly below the average for all landscaping and groundskeeping workers, and that their average pay falls just above the median for the overall industry.