Some say hugely inflated salaries tell a lot about our cultural values – since it’s the teachers and waitresses of the world that go to the movies and buy new kitchen appliances, funding paychecks for the wealthiest celebrities and CEOs of the world. “What jobs pay makes a statement about what we value. As a culture, these disparities make shocking statements about which human activities are more valuable to us,” says Dr. Al Lee, PayScale.com’s director of quantitative analysis.
While we love to watch celebrities, athletes and CEOs traipse around the world in designer suits for their power lunches and award shows, famous people’s salaries can seem outrageous when compared to the teachers, nurses, auto mechanics and engineers that keep the U.S. economy humming.
Cameron Diaz vs. an Elementary School Teacher
Tinsel town’s hot female star makes almost 1,250 times as much as the average elementary school teacher. Blonde bombshell Cameron Diaz, star of is one Hollywood’s highest-paid actresses, with a recent annual income of $50 million*. The typical salary for an elementary school teacher is $40,035.**
Is she worth it? While a great actress with a bubbly personality and box office magic may be hard to find, elementary school teachers are among the earliest, most important influencers of our children. “Whether in preschools or high schools or in private or public schools, teachers provide the tools and the environment for their students to develop into responsible adults,” notes the Bureau of Labor Statistics. What do you think – are the wealthiest celebrities like Diaz really worth more than 1000 times elementary school teacher salaries?
Alex Rodriguez vs. a Police Officer
Our list of wealthy celebrities wouldn’t be complete without at least one reference to overpaid professional athletes’ salaries. And, if you pool the salaries of 576 police officers you still won’t have more than baseball’s highest paid star. New York Yankee third baseman Alex Rodriguez recently took home $28 million in one year. The typical salary for a police officer is $48,591.
Is he worth it? Sure, A-Rod may hit more homers than anybody, but police officers repeatedly put their lives on the line. Harvard-educated writer Edward Conlon says some cops make less than panhandlers, let alone the wealthiest celebrities. The entire U.S Senate makes less too. Each senate member brings in about $170,000 annually, pennies to Rodriguez. In fact, Rodriguez could earn a Senators annual salary in less than three days. This talented homerun star takes home more than the combined salary of all 100 Senate members and 226 police officers combined. What do you think – are athletes being overpaid?
Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of General Electric vs. a Civil Engineer
Jeffrey R. Immelt may not fall into the category of wealthiest celebrities, but with a salary that crushes most civil engineering salaries, he can still qualify as overpaid. The General Electric CEO recently made $15.48 million in one year, 249 times the salary of the folks who supervise the construction of roads, buildings, airports, tunnels, dams, bridges and water supply and sewage systems. The typical salary for a civil engineer is $61,929.
Is he worth it? Immelt is listed in a Forbes report on “Overpaid Bosses” as one of five CEOs who have “given shareholders poor bang for the buck.” And though he’s been running GE for a decade, many say he’s a poor leader. Civil engineers must consider many factors in the design process, from the construction costs and expected lifetime of a project to government regulations and potential environmental hazards like earthquakes and hurricanes. What do you think – is an underperforming executive worth so much more than a civil engineer who designs airports and bridges – the essential infrastructure of modern life?
Simon Cowell vs. a Registered Nurse
The reality TV judge everyone loves to hate makes almost 14,000 times as much as a registered nurse. American Idol star Simon Cowell says what we’re thinking – but would never dare say. He is reported to earn $72 million a year and ranks high on the Forbes Celebrity 100 list. The typical salary of a registered nurse is $52,228.
Is he worth it? Simon’s sharp tongue certainly helps draw in the viewers, but registered nurses treat patients. They educate the sick on their medical condition and offer advice and emotional support. The work can be physically and mentally demanding, and may involve long hours and high levels of stress. Meanwhile, according to the Health Resources and Services Administration, by 2010 the United States will be short almost 406,000 nurses. What do you think – are the wealthiest celebrities and reality TV show judges almost 1,400 times as important as the individuals caring for our sick, elderly and wounded?
Beyonce Knowles vs. an Auto Mechanic
The pop diva who coined the term “bootylicious” makes nearly 2,200 times as much as your car mechanic. Beyonce Knowles rakes in her $80 million salary from a mix of deals that include fashion, film and publishing deals. Auto mechanic salaries are close to $40,000.
Is she worth it? Not many ladies can own the stage like Beyonce, but a talented and honest mechanic is worth his weight in bling. Mechanics inspect, maintain and repair automobiles and light trucks that run on gasoline, electricity or alternative fuels such as ethanol. As technology evolves, so do their jobs. What do you think – is a pop musician that much more valuable than the guy who keeps your precious wheels safely barreling down the highway?
When you do the math, the salaries of wealthy celebrities like Diaz, Immelt and Knowles seem absurd compared to that of typical American workers. Then again, the stress of being a public figure in the limelight of the paparazzi might be worth the extra few million dollars being paid to the wealthiest celebrities.
*Data and information regarding specific individuals come from Forbes.com and The Salary Reporter.
**PayScale salary data is used for professions, and gives the annual median salary for individuals with 5-9 years of experience.