For 29 years, millions of Americans have waited for Parade magazine’s “Annual Report What People Earn.” Now that the 30th edition is out, we know that Albert Pujols can make his mortgage payment. I don’t begrudge him his $14,500,000 contract to play first base, but I wish he were in an Atlanta Braves uniform, instead of with the L.A. Angels.
Parade’s treasure trove of trivia appeared as an insert in my Sunday paper—a welcome relief from the political sniping, job layoffs, and threatened tax increases we hear daily. The subject of how much other people get paid grabs our attention like an upended semi on the freeway or a newscast that the winning lottery ticket was purchased where we buy milk. Their pay gives an idea if we’re getting our fair share of the wealth in society.
Well, sorta …
Many suspect that the government/politicians/the welfare department/the boss ain’t treating them right. However, from the 62 fellow Americans mentioned in this report, we can learn the truth of this conspiracy against us. For example, a guy named Darryl made $75K in 1994 for making cat furniture (no lie) but today he gets a mere $55K—possibly a consequence of too much time in the sandbox? A sigh of relief as we compare our pay to that of Jeffrey, a body piercer, who earns $34K. Is that justice or what? He looks like a nice young man.
Next up is Rev. Laura, who made $35K as a Lutheran pastor 11 years ago. Now she makes $53K as just plain Laura, a “Laughter Ambassador.” I’m not sure how that equates with what you or I get as a house painter, owner of a pet shop, or meter reader but chances are she got a gig with GSA.
Let’s suppose you’re a teacher. Apples to apples. Doug made $18,700 some 30 years ago teaching on Bainbridge Island, WA; today, he’s drawing $42,000 in retirement pay. A fellow architect, Hai On, made $32,000 19 years ago in Anchorage but he moved to Hawaii “for the quality of life.” He’s making $10,500 now. They told us that might happen back in architecture school. Which brings me to my home state—Ricky Huddleston, from McAlester, made $103K as a rodeo cowboy 12 years ago. As you’d expect, he got busted up; today he’s supervisor on a road crew at half that amount. What he misses is the competition—“man against animal.” Thank you, but I’ll stay this side of the corral fence; I’ve been kicked, stepped on, and knocked down more times than I can count.
Time to get serious. Two things drew me to the Parade survey: one, to imagine the road not traveled—if I’d known I could’ve made a decent living, maybe I would’ve trained to be a firefighter (fire lieutenant $93,190), E-book author ($59,000), or archaeologist ($51,959). But the second reason is primary—as a writer and student of the human condition, I want to see what our culture values: $50,000,000 to Johnny Depp, an actor; $64,000 for a social worker in Fargo and half that for a teen counselor in Vermont; $150,000 for a plastic surgeon in Pittsburgh. Ronald made $31,000 as a chef 17 years ago but today he’s lost 200 pounds and makes $70,000 as a culinary instructor to at-risk kids in Baton Rouge. Job satisfaction is the paramount issue.
Throughout history, humans have valued others by their wealth or lack thereof. We’re no different today. The finely coifed individual wearing pinstripes and Guccis who hangs out with celebs gets front-row seats at Caesar’s Palace. With the new orchestrated envy of, and animosity toward the better-off, we can expect to hear more from the Occupy movement. The “1 percenters” are supposedly responsible for the current economic mess. But isn’t that too often an embarrassing symptom of our own longing, even obsession, for the perks and attention that wealth brings?
Jesus exhorted us to have a humble recognition of who we are, reconciling our expectations with the will of God. Satisfaction with our lot in life comes not from what we possess but with what possesses us. David, the shepherd king, gave us these words:
Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name … forget none of his benefits … who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion; who satisfies your years with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle.