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Three books tattle on American salaries

If you think your salary is your best-kept secret, think twice. Three recent books on salaries, one of them an almanac, are letting the income cat out of the bag.

The American Almanac of Jobs and Salaries, by John Wright, is the first comprehensive look at what all kinds of workers earn. Published by Avon Books and listed at $9.95, this trade book will be on the shelves in February.

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''Comparability . . . that's one reason I did this book,'' says Mr. Wright, an editor with a major New York publishing house. People looking for work want to compare salaries, and employers need to know what the going rates are, he explains. ''Juniors and seniors in college want to see where the money is, where they can really earn.''

Wright's book does what a thick almanac is supposed to do: cover most everything. From Washington to Hollywood, from the humanities to the sciences, from doctors to lawyers, from bus drivers to sanitation workers - the almanac lists high, low, and average salaries and dabs a touch of explanation behind the figures.

Though the book doesn't stand on any soapbox, Wright hopes that it will show ''there is no consistent way that society rewards its workers,'' he stressed in an interview. ''I've noticed judges resigning because they're only earning $70, 000. . . . And what I want to know is, what is it about Dan Rather that makes him worth over a million a year to CBS? . . . And the disparity between deans and professors. I assumed deans made more, but $20,000 a year more?''

Most incomes can be hunted down in reports from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, from industry studies, from unions, and from ''think tanks.'' But it took Wright 17 researchers and two years to pull it all together. The material has been stored on computer floppy disks, for easy updates.

Where will the jobs be in the 1980s? Wright lists the 10 jobs expected to have the most annual openings: secretaries; retail sales workers; building custodians; cashiers; bookkeepers; nurse's aides; cooks; kindergarten and elementary teachers; registered nurses; and assemblers. Not exactly the highest-paying work.

Most of the jobs just mentioned are woman-intensive. In a book called ''What Women Earn,'' Thelma Kandel says these jobs are flooded with female applicants. ''It's the law of supply and demand. With so many women in the market,'' employers don't need to pay top wages, she explains.

Just published in September by the Linden Press, ''What Women Earn,'' is an informative A to Z directory of jobs: what they pay; what women earn compared with men; what the perquisites are; who the big woman earners are.

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Results from Ms. Kandel's extensive interviewing and digging around in various government and private reports reveal some arresting facts: In 37 states , women are earning less than 60 percent of what men earn; 1 out of 10 female workers earns as much as males in similar jobs; and the median annual salary for male college graduates is $19,433 - for female graduates it's $12,028.

''I don't pretend to have the solutions, but if women know where the problems are and why they are, maybe they can find the solution themselves,'' Ms. Kandel affirms.

Though the book may not offer social solutions, it does put forth one pragmatic one: Women should move into the male-dominated fields. Wall Street, engineering, finance, computers, industrial sales - this is where the money is. ''A place where a woman can really earn what she's worth is in sales. Commission is the magic word,'' she says.

Another salary book, ''The Book of Incomes,'' by Gerald Krefetz and Philip Gittelman, doesn't focus on one group and doesn't try to be as complete as an almanac. The book, being published this month by Holt, Rinehart & Winston, opens with a good deal of attention on the glamorous people - the world's biggest moneymakers. Mr. Krefetz refers to this as the ''entertaining part of the book, '' which makes the educational part a little easier to swallow. The educational part breezes through 250 pages of job descriptions and salaries.

Though a couple of ''salaries'' books have already been published over the past few years (''America's Paychecks,'' by David Harrop, and ''Everything a Woman Needs to Know to Get Paid What She's Worth,'' by Caroline Bird and David McKay), the new rash of books comes when ''people are really feeling the effects of inflation on the job market,'' John Wright says. And then, too, ''people are just curious to find out what everybody else is making,'' admits Krefetz.

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