Parade Magazine just came out with this year’s edition of “What People Earn,” which catalogues the jobs and earnings of about 80 people across the country.
Surveying a mere 80 people doesn’t provide statistical certainty that the results reflect realty. In fact, the 80 people could be said to people an imaginary Parade universe, which we can otherwise call the alternative world of work that Parade wants us to see it. Some readers think I cover Parade too much, but it is the most well-read magazine in the country by virtue of it being included as part of the Sunday issue of virtually all daily newspapers. In its quiet way, Parade is one of the most influential arbiters of values and mores in the mass media.
So how does Parade’s survey do when it comes to reflecting the real world?
For example, about 60% of the people surveyed by Parade make under $75,000 a year, whereas in the real world about 88% of people earn $75,000 or less according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
In Parade’s world, the most common way to earn $75,000-$125,000 a year is to work for the government in some specialist or managerial capacity. I couldn’t find easy statistics on what percentage of people earning from $75,000-$125,000 work for local, state or federal government, but I can’t imagine that it’s anywhere near the 55% of all employees in this salary segment that we see in Parade’s alternative world of work. Could the subliminal effect of seeing all these well-paid government workers be to make the lower wage earners think that government workers are unfairly paid? Now wouldn’t that play right into the right-wing program to foster resentment against unionized government workers.
Surely the less moneyed readers couldn’t resent any of the nine people in the survey who make more than one million dollars a year. None of the million-dollar earners, by the way, earn less than $8.0 million.
Why no resentment? Because they are all celebrities—athletes or entertainers. Typically, we admire celebrities and only resent what they earn in comparative terms—(as is: LeBron James doesn’t deserve to make more than Tom Brady, for example).
Among the million-dollar earners on Parade’s list there is not a single CEO of a big company, nor any professional investor or investment banker, nor any very successful physician or attorney. By contrast, the Parade survey lists only owners and executives of businesses as earning between $125,000 and $1.0 million, and all of these earn considerably less than $500,000. It seems to me that the message here is that business owners and executives don’t make outsized amounts of money—they only make a little bit more than the average Jane and Joe.
Parade’s alternative world of work, then, is a meritocracy in which to reach the top you have to have a lot of talent in some very specific areas—athletics, singing, dancing, performing. While Parade’s world is primarily rich and poor/lower middle class, there is actually a higher number of people in the middle and upper ends of middle class income levels in Parade’ s world than in actual life. The Parade world also seems somewhat fairer than the real world because there are no bosses making millions and tens of millions of dollars a year while their employees work for almost nothing. There are no investment bankers manipulating the finances of companies to skim off profit while workers lose ground to inflation. The only business owners we see are close to being regular and hard-working guys and gals.
All we have at the top of Parade’s alternative world of work are the mythical gods and goddesses who the mass media erect as role models showing us how we should live our lives, the alpha and omega of our value system—the celebrity.