I love to read the annual survey in Parade Magazine of what people earn in their jobs. I always do an informal count of the various salary levels to illustrate what I know from demographic studies to be true: that over the past 30 years, the middle class has shrunk and we’ve seen a much greater polarization of wealth in the United States. In other words, we’re becoming a nation of rich and poor.
Parade conveniently gives us the salaries of 101 real people in a range of occupations. If we break the salaries into broad groups, the number of people in each group is almost equal to that group’s percentage of the total.
Here are the numbers:
Annual Income: Number of People in Parade Survey
Under $25,000: 22
$500,000-$1 million: 1
$1 million-$5 million: 3
More than $5 million: 12
We don’t have to dig very far into these numbers to see that most people don’t make that much money anymore. Some things to note:
- Half of all people in the Parade survey make less than $50,000 a year.
- If we still had a large middle class—you know, people who can afford to have two children with their summer camps, lessons, youth sports, college and graduate school, plus annual vacations, two cars, a nice home and a retirement portfolio—the Parade survey would include many more people making from $50,000-$250,000 (really, more than $100,000).
- A line or bar graph of these salaries would resemble a barbell, which means that it’s skinny in the middle and fat on both ends, although in this case, much fatter on the poor end than the rich one. This formation highly suggests that we have a fairly extreme polarization of wealth. (Unless you are prepared to state that an annual income of under $25,000 isn’t poverty level.)
You might be interested to note that the 12 who make exorbitant incomes of more than $5 million a year include 1 athlete, 2 singers, 3 talk show hosts, 1 movie director, 2 actors, 1 writer of popular fiction and 2 CEOs of large companies.
There are caveats to this study, which looks at 101 people selected to represent diversity of profession and geography. While it is suggestive, it is far from statistically valid. Also note that income is not wealth. You could be so rich that you don’t need to work or are able to work in a low-paying job that you love. It’s a hypothetical conjecture, though, because people with money who work tend to want to have high-status, high-income jobs, and have the wherewithal to get the education and make the contacts necessary to get them.
Nonetheless, it’s interesting to see a microcosm of what most people make, or perhaps I should say, don’t make.