What Are People Worth?


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.

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About samuelehall

A follower of Jesus, husband, father of 3 adult children, writer and learner.
This entry was posted in Finding me ... and you and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to What Are People Worth?

  1. Jerry says:

    Someday, maybe I will learn not to use scripture with you as basis for my argument. You are much more versed than I. I agree that dishonesty is nondiscriminatory and bipartisan, allowing the wealthy and the poor to participate. The major difference may be that a wealthy person can wield much more devastation with his/her dishonesty. For instance, when Kenneth Lay sneezed within the Enron Corporation, California caught pneumonia. When Enron self-destructed, thousands of people were hurt or unemployed. If, on the other hand, my modest-income neighbor is dishonest in dealing with me, I can solve that problem as an individual. If some legislator within government and a wealthy person collaborate to do harm, millions of people may be affected, as was the case in the recent financial collapse. People are still without homes and income because of those corrupt activities.

    My efforts to deal with dishonesty on a national scale is through my individual ballot. I try to vote for leaders who seem to be work in the best interest of the people, rather than in the interest of themselves or their wealthy lobbyists. I am more wary of wealthy bankers and their lobbyists, who want fewer regulations on their financial practices. I am also more wary of government agencies which fail to enforce such regulations. On a local scale, I try to be honest and to encourage honesty in others, thereby gaining a fair balance.

    • samuelehall says:

      Jerry, my man. Good thoughts. You care, that’s what counts. Indeed, the dishonest wealthy man can wreak a lot of damage but an honest wealthy man or woman can work a lot of good. Well put, your comment about Ken Lay.
      I urge you to continue to search scripture for the truths that are there. God will bless your efforts. He knows your heart and with your desire for good and insightful mind, there’s no end to where it will lead you.

  2. Jerry says:

    Proverbs 11:1: A false balance is an abomination to the Lord, but an accurate weight is his delight.

    Sam, if we should not envy those who are wealthy, perhaps we should have some righteous indignation for those whose wealth is based on a “false balance” in our society. For instance, the Wall Street bankers who created and profited from the collateral debt obligations and credit default swaps, thereby helping to create the massive financial crisis in 2008. How about the very wealthy who use their wealth to gain a false balance through legislative action. What about a bit of righteous indignation for the corrupt relationships between the very wealthy and Congress? What about some righteous indignation for the payday lenders, who gain over 400% return in their predatory lending practices with the poorest among us? Yes, let us not be envious of the very wealthy, but a bit of righteous indignation for those who use a “false balance” may be in order.

    • samuelehall says:

      Thanks, Jerry, for your thoughts. I agree that righteous indignation is in order for those who “game” the system simply to cheat others. That includes the politicians who rammed through legislation allowing totally unqualified borrowers to get a home loan, under the shallow argument that “everybody deserves to own their own home.” That was simply a move to gain power.
      Whenever I read Proverbs 11:1, I always think of Sediq, my Afghan neighbor when we lived in Africa. We went to a general store together and Sediq said to me, “Sam, just casually turn and look behind and above us.”
      To my amazement, a man sat in a chair ~ 12′ above the floor, watching everything in the store. I said, “What’s he doing?”
      Sediq replied, “He’s the owner of this place. He doesn’t trust his workers. But you know, Sam, my people–whenever we had any trade with those people (the nationality I won’t disclose)–we always, always, had our own scales. They were not to be trusted.”
      Back to what the writer of Proverbs (Solomon, possibly the richest man in the world at that time) does not say. He does not condemn wealth. He doesn’t even say “the rich man who uses false balances.” What he says is that anyone who uses false balances is utilizing deceit to steal from his neighbor.
      I think that too often we condemn the wealthy simply because they are rich, perhaps assuming they used nefarious means to amass their wealth. The few wealthy people I know are without exception scrupulously honest.
      In actuality, God is displeased with anyone who tries to cheat, steal, defraud another person. Proverbs 10 makes some interesting observations re wealth: v 2 Ill-gotten treasures are of no value, but righteousness delivers from death … 15-16 The wealth of the rich is their fortified city, but poverty is the ruin of the poor. The wages of the righteous bring them life, but the income of the wicked brings them punishment … 22 The blessing of the Lord brings wealth, and he adds no trouble to it.
      The reverse of that last point in v 22 indicates that those who are blessed by the Lord (i.e., people who don’t use false balances, etc.) will have wealth but not the trouble that often goes with great possessions.
      Back to your point: Have you figured the best way to express your righteous indignation? What did you do?

  3. Yes BUT…how much value is one sinner that repents. What a thrill if you were the one leading that person in prayer.

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