Recently, the Miami Dolphins of the National Football League signed a 28-year-old defensive tackle named Ndamukong Suh to a multi-year contract worth—hold onto your hats—$114,375,000. Just let that sink in for a while. $114,375,000. No, I didn’t misplace a comma, or add an extra digit. You read it right!
Before you get on your high horse and hit me with comments like “Yeah, but it’s not guaranteed!” or “His signing bonus is spread out over five years,” understand one thing: He plays football!
While Mr. Suh is a highly intelligent individual—in fact, he holds a bachelor’s degree in construction management from the College of Engineering at University of Nebraska-Lincoln—he does not perform brain surgery for a living—he tackles other football players. (If you’re interested in learning all the details of Mr. Suh’s contract with the Miami Dolphins, you can read about them in an article published on SpotRac.com.)
Rather than dwell on Mr. Suh and his enormous windfall, I’d like to explore the subject of comparative incomes in the workplace. Just how much of a gap is there between the salary of a top athlete and—okay, since I’ve already mentioned it—a brain surgeon? What would you guess a typical brain surgeon earns per year? $1,000,000? $2,000,000? Would it surprise you to learn that after six years in practice (and umpteen years of schooling), the average salary is $589,500, according to Becker’s Hospital Review. One with 15 or 20 years of experience might top the million dollar mark.
We’re all familiar with the expression: “Hey, it isn’t rocket science!” But seriously, how much money do the men and women who really are rocket scientists earn? According to an article in the Houston Chronicle, not very much. Aerospace engineers are the ones we think of as “rocket scientists.” They’re the ones who produce the overall designs. As of 2011, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, aerospace engineers averaged nearly $97,000 per year—and these are the guys responsible for getting all those communications satellites up in the air. (Some of them undoubtedly design the airplanes that transport all those highly paid football players from one venue to another.) Only $97,000 per year! Are you kidding me?!
Let’s turn to politics. We’ll start at the top. This year, President Barack Obama will be paid the princely sum of $400,000. And, yes, there are “fringe benefits.” In addition to his salary, he also receives a $50,000 annual expense account, a $100,000 nontaxable travel account, and $19,000 for entertainment. Add it all up, and it still only comes to $569,000—roughly half of what the top brain surgeon earns. But I digress. The Vice President earns $230,700. The base pay of a United States Senator and that of a Congressman is exactly the same: $174,000 per year (a party leader receives $193,400).
But none of the above-mentioned individuals could have ever gotten where they are without their teachers and college professors. So, how are they rewarded? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2011, high school teachers averaged $56,760 a year. However, half of all high school teachers earned less than $54,270 a year. College professors fare quite a bit better than their lower-tier counterparts. An annual report from the American Association of University Professors places Columbia University in New York as the best paying college in the country, with average full professors there raking in $212,300 a year.
Here are the average salaries for some of the more commonplace occupations (source-PayScale.com):
- Policeman—$47,829 per year (this figure varies widely, depending upon location)
- Fireman—$43,443 per year (same parameters apply as for policemen)
- Plumber—$42,640 (calculated using an average hourly rate of $20.50)
- Electrician—$42,785 (calculated using an average hourly rate of $20.57)
- Carpenter—$39,748.8 (calculated using an average hourly rate of $19.11)
Last (but by no means least), let’s take a quick peek at the entertainment industry. Here are some numbers that will knock your socks off.
- Highest paid musician—Dr. Dre took home $620 million last year before taxes, making him the world’s top-earning musician of 2014. More remarkably, that number also marks the largest single-year haul of any musician, ever (Source: Forbes). Note: I have never even heard of Dr. Dre, I swear it.
- Highest paid actor—I must admit, this one surprised me. Robert Downey Jr. topped Forbes’ list of top earning actors with $75,000,000 in 2014. He is the highest earning actor in Hollywood. (Would you expect any less of the actor who plays Iron Man?)
- Hollywood Director—This was a tough one to pin down, due to the fact that most directors also write and/or produce. But in 2010, James Cameron’s swag amounted to roughly $257,000,000, according to The Richest.
So what does all this mean, and what message does it send to our youth? We, as a society, place a great deal of emphasis on professions that entertain us. It seems pretty apparent to me that if individuals want to make a ton of money, they should either be movie stars or play pro football. Relax! I’m just kidding! (Ndamukong Suh is one of only a handful of football players who ever even make it to the pros—let alone earn a gazillion dollars. Most high school players are lucky to play in college. The majority never do.) The same can be said for members of the entertainment industry. The average actor, singer, dancer, musician, etc. barely scrapes out a living (don’t kid yourself; the ones who get rich are few and far between). So if young people are charting their futures based on being a member of one of those “glamour” professions, they better do so with their eyes open wide. If they just finish high school (or maybe college), they can always plan to be cops, plumbers, electricians, or firemen. But, with few exceptions, they’ll most likely just get by (which is really a shame, when you stop to think about it, because where would we be without them?).
Conclusion: Aside from the anomalies cited above, there is one factor that accounts for the most people earning the greatest amount of money in their lifetime—can you guess what it is? Give up? It’s good old E-D-U-C-A-T-I-O-N. If they study hard, finish high school, go to college, and work hard, they will have the best chance of being financially successful.
Now, which jobs bring the greatest amount of satisfaction? That’s a topic for another day.