Honey Boo Boo versus the wastewater treatment guy

It happens every year, in the early spring.  Right before we become obsessed with NCAA basketball, and several weeks before pollen blankets our patio furniture, Parade Magazine treats us to its annual rundown titled “What People Earn.”  It’s a fascinating, frustrating look at our American economic system and what capitalism has wrought.  It’s one of those articles that makes you sick, but you can’t put it down.

Because Parade is a supplement in the Sunday newspapers in major metropolitan areas, and because so few of us even bother to subscribe to printed newspapers any more, it might be a good idea to recap the highlights and lowlights of “What People Earn.”

Here are some of the lowlights; workers in America who earn under $100,000 per year:

A civilian psychologist for the U.S. Army.  A botanical photographer who searches for rare plants.  A historic preservationist.  A designer who creates 3-D virtual models for Navy stealth destroyer ships.  A library director.  A pediatric speech pathologist.  A sign language instructor.  A waste-water treatment plant operator.  Lab technicians.  Day care providers.  Public safety dispatchers.  Substitute teachers.  An educational theater specialist.  Pastors.  A nuclear security training instructor.  A pathology assistant who analyzes surgical specimens.  An associate professor who teaches welding.  A weapons technician, a bookstore owner, an emergency flight nurse, and a special needs school bus driver.

Think about this.  Some of these people are creative, blazing new trails and looking to make a difference.  Many of them are the people who take care of us, and our children.  They work to make our lives better, healthier, more productive.  If they don’t show up for work, we may suffer.  And most of these individuals make much less than $100,000 per year.

Now here are a few of the highlights; individuals who mostly earn well over $100,000 per year:

A tennis champion.  A pop music sensation.  An actor-producer who collects $500,000 per episode.  Comedians, actresses, football players, singer/songwriters.  A spa owner.  A celebrity chef, who earns an extra $100,000 for each personal appearance.  A bridal shop owner.  A country music star and a reality show coach.  An actor/producer who made $7 million doing perfume ads.  Professional basketball players.  And an actress who made $160,000 per pound for each of the 25 pounds that she lost for her last role.

Oh, and we can’t forget someone named “Honey Boo Boo” Thompson, a seven-year-old star of a reality TV show who makes about $50,000 per episode and whose net worth is estimated to be more than $300,000.

Now think about these folks.  These are people who entertain us.  Certainly, most of them are greatly talented, and we enjoy watching them perform.  They can make us happy.  But they don’t teach us, they don’t take care of us, and they don’t really make our lives better.  More fun, yes.  But not necessarily better.

It’s interesting that Parade fails to include some of the titans of industry; those CEOs and Wall Street wonders whose million-dollar bonuses have become commonplace during the past few years.  Perhaps the editors of the supplement believe that we can read all about them in the Wall Street Journal or in the business pages of our daily papers. Also excluded are politicians, who seem to amass great wealth once they step into the halls of power in Washington, DC.

One week before the Parade magazine article appeared, the New York Times ran an article headlined “Swiss Voters Approve a Plan to Severely Limit Executive Compensation.”  Almost 68 percent of Swiss voters backed a plan to impose some of the world’s most severe restrictions on executive pay.  In the run-up to the vote, bankers and prominent executives were accused of receiving “rip off” pay packages.

Americans are being ripped off, too, and it’s undoubtedly going to take more than a few newspaper articles or Sunday supplements to make us aware of the economic disparities that we seem happy to tolerate right now.  I don’t know what it’s going to take.  But personally, I’d like to see some of the money that Honey Boo Boo is making go to the guy who shows up every day to operate the waste water treatment plant.