What people earn: exploring salaries for 45 notable careers
At a moment when inequality in America is at its most extreme point in a century, it’s fascinating to see what people are paid. Obviously, salary isn’t everything—wealth is defined by what people have, but also what a family has: what safety nets are available, and how damaging a broken down car, an unexpected injury, or a cavity will be.
There’s value in knowing what people are paid—the taboo of talking of salaries leads to a practice that protects the privileged classes. As a man, a way to lean in for female workers is to be open about salaries. The pay gap remains invisible and thus unchangeable until it’s not. But what’s happening is larger than individual workers asking for more. A world where the highest-paid public employee is a football coach making $11.1 million and where an actor in two terrible films can make the same amount in a year that 50 Americans combined will make in a lifetime is a broken one. So as always, pay the teachers, pay the cooks, pay the housekeepers, and pay the bus drivers.
For this list, we looked at Bureau of Labor Statistics, leaned on Fortune and Forbes’ reporting, and looked elsewhere around the internet to find out what these 45 notable people and careers make.
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#1. Mark Wahlberg
Annual earnings: $68 million
Surprisingly, last year’s highest-paid actor was the star of “Daddy’s Home 2” and “Transformers: The Last Night,” the owner of the burger franchise Wahlburgers, and the face of an AT&T ad campaign. The one-time Funky Bunch frontman has certainly found a way to stay relevant and profitable—Ashey Ace and Hector the Booty Inspector made slightly less than $68 million in 2017.
#2. LeBron James
Annual earnings: $33.3 million
The 6-foot-8-inch small forward was paid $33.3 million to play for the Cleveland Cavaliers this season—making him the second-highest paid player in the National Basketball Association after Stephen Curry. But Lebron James’s on-court salary is only part of his net worth—Forbes estimates that James made $55 million in off-court endorsements last year.
#3. Candace Parker
Annual earnings: $113,500
The first pick in the 2008 Women's National Basketball Association draft and a two-time MVP award winner, Candace Parker is a true star of the women’s league. Unfortunately, because of the systemic sexism still alive and well in the sports world—and society as a whole—Parker’s salary, which is the top in the WNBA, is making over 160 times less money than Knicks center Joakim Noah—who was paid over $18 million to score a total of 12 points last season.
#4. Emma Stone
Annual earnings: $26 million
The star of the almost Academy Award winning “La La Land” was paid $26 million in 2017 according to Forbes. The actress mentioned in an interview with Out Magazine that she’s had male co-stars allow the studio to redirect some of their salary to Stone in order to close the gender pay gap. Even so, Stone, the highest-paid female actor of 2017 made less than the 14 highest-paid male actors.
#5. Tom Brady
Annual earnings: $28 million
The Patriots quarterback could very well be the best to ever play the position, but he’s never been paid like it. Instead, he’s taken team-friendly deals—his newest contract pays him an average of $20.5 million per year. He also makes an estimated $8 million per year in off-field endorsement deals with UGG and Under Armour.
#6. Director of Social Media Dan Scavino
Annual earnings: $179,900
Dan Scavino managed to parlay the role of Donald Trump’s caddy into a position in the White House where he is paid almost $180,000 per year. Scavino earns his wages shadow-tweeting for Trump. While there are probably better ways to use tax dollars, at least Scavino’s tweets haven’t yet started World War III.
#7. Patrick Kane
Annual earnings: $13.8 million
The highest-paid player in the National Hockey League, Chicago Blackhawks right winger Patrick Kane is one of the stars of the league. While no one should shed a tear for anyone making almost $14 million per year, the NHL players earn much less than the other major sports—36 players in Major League Baseball made over $20 million in 2017.
#8. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell
Annual earnings: $40 million
As the NFL faces existential crisis after existential crisis, one man sits at the center of it all, seemingly always making the wrong decision and constantly weathering a storm of negative press. But, for the owners, clearly there is value in putting someone else forward to talk about domestic violence, concussions, and the appearance of blackballing players for peacefully demonstrating. As long as the NFL remains hugely lucrative, Goodell will continue to earn his exorbitant, incentive-laded salary—he just reupped in December for five more seasons.
#9. CBS Ceo Les Moonves
Annual earnings: $69.3 million
Few people in television have the Midas touch like Les Moonves. In the same year he was promoted to his post at CBS, the network became the most-watched channel, and by 2005, they had six megahits: “Survivor,” “CSI,” “CSI: Miami,” “Cold Case,” “NCIS,” and “Without a Trace”. The 68-year-old is currently in a legal power struggle with Shari Redstone after the Viacom-CBS merger—it’s unclear who will run the new mega-conglomerate.
#10. Disney CEO Bob Iger
Annual earnings: $36.3 million
Since taking over Disney in 2005, Bob Iger has overseen the purchase of Pixar, Marvel Studios, Lucasfilm, and 21st Century Fox. Under Iger’s leadership, Disney now owns the rights to Luke Skywalker, Captain America, Wolverine, and the grandpa from “Up.” They also own ABC, the station that airs “The Bachelor” franchise, and ESPN, which airs about 100 NBA games per season.
#11. Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky
Annual earnings: $29.8 million
The medical device and consumer first aid giant is best known for selling Band-Aids, Tylenol, Neutrogena, and baby powder—clearly, the health industry is big business. CEO Alex Gorsky pulls in an incredible $29.8 million per year, or put another way, 5.46 million boxes of Spider-Man Band-Aids. Note: This number does not factor in Gorsky’s employee discount.
#12. Equifax CEO Robert F. Smith
Annual earnings: $15.7 million
The credit report giant had a rough year—a data breach exposed 143 million people’s personal information. Worse than that, the information was never given to Equifax, who creates credit reports whether or not a customer signs up. CEO Robert F. Smith resigned during the scandal, but still managed to make an astounding $72 million for his nine months of relatively disastrous work this year.
#13. Overstock.com CEO Patrick M. Byrne
Annual earnings: $444,576
The internet retail giant was founded by Patrick M. Byrne in 1997 and made its name selling surplus or returned items. In 2014, they were the first large retail company to begin accepting bitcoin. Byrne is the CEO and pays himself $444,576 which is both a giant sum of money and relatively modest in the realm of American CEOs.
#14. Sean Hannity
Annual earnings: $29 million
The Fox News host is a ratings giant on television and on his syndicated radio show. He also become an unofficial counsel to the president after jumping on the Trump train early. He was pro-Make America Great Again when many on the right still rung their hands about the then-candidates' penchant for vulgarity and coziness with white nationalists—a year into his term, the Republican party is the party of Sean Hannity and Donald Trump.
#15. President of the United States
Annual earnings: $400,000
The person charged with running the most powerful military in the world and one of the most influential democracies in history is paid $400,000—though that doesn’t count room, board, or use of a pretty sweet private jet. The job of leader of the free world is a tough one, but it’s a hell of a resume builder—some have parlayed the respected position into a producing gig at Netflix.
Annual earnings: $105 million
In 2017, the highly accomplished artist, Beyoncé, made $105 million. The otherworldly talented singer made most of that figure on her Formation world tour.
Annual earnings: $94 million
The man once known as Jimmy from “Degrassi” is now the biggest rapper on the planet, according to streaming numbers, at least. In 2017, he made $94 million, a majority coming from streaming sales, his Sprite endorsement deal, and his Boy Meets World tour. The year 2018 has been a rough year for Drake, who was notoriously shamed via battle rap about being an absentee dad—as the old adage goes: those with more than $90 million in annual income need not engage in beef with Pusha T.
#18. Fortune 500 CEO
Annual earnings: $11.5 million
Incredibly in 2016, the median pay for a Fortune 500 CEO who had had the gig for at least two years was $11.5 million. For all Fortune 500 CEOs, their salary is on average 339 times the pay of their workers. At the most extreme, a Fortune 500 CEO was paid 5,000 times more than his average employee.
#19. Top-paid college coaches
Annual earnings: $3.9–11.1 million
In many states, the highest-paid public employee is not the governor or the top judge, or even the dean of the college. No, in 39 states, the top-paid public employee is either the men’s football or basketball coach at the public university. No coach is paid more than legendary University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban, who makes $11.1 million per year.
#20. NASA astronauts
Annual earnings: $65,140–100,701
The mix of bravery and academic prowess needed to be an astronaut seems almost unmatched. And yet, some of the best and brightest are working their entire lives for the chance to go to space for a relatively modest sum of between $65,000 and $100,000 per year. But once they do get to space, one would imagine the book deal upon their return pays handsomely.
#21. Rodeo clowns
Annual earnings: $51,000
If one were imagining hell on earth, they might posit: wear face paint, a wig, and a whimsical outfit and try to distract an angry bull while thousands of people look on and scream. But, many people sign up for the opportunity to be a rodeo clown every day. And each year, the most-rugged members of the clowning community bring home a bit more than $50,000.
#22. Major League Baseball umpire
Annual earnings: $120–350,000
Those that call balls and strikes for America’s pastime are paid handsomely for the thankless job. Sure, they’re yelled at by players, managers, and stadiums full of angry fans, but free travel and the best seat in the house probably makes the barrage of drunk insults hurt a little less.
#23. Major record label CEOs
Annual earnings: $3–5 million
Sure, the music industry is changing and traditional labels are crumbling. But that doesn’t mean the men at the top aren’t handsomely paid for the job of righting the sinking ship. According to a 2015 Billboard study, major label CEOs made between $3–5 million—the heads of the multinational record groups, such as Sony or Warner, made as much as $16 million per year.
#24. “American Idol” judge
Annual earnings: $10–25 million
When “American Idol” moved to ABC this year, the network knew it was important to get big-time talent at their judge’s table. How important? According to the Wall Street Journal, Katy Perry was paid $25 million for the gig while Luke Bryan made $12 million and Lionel Richie pulled in $10 million. The ABC revival never reached the numbers of the heyday of the show, but it did enough to get renewed for a second season.
#25. McDonald’s store manager
#26. Judge Judy
Annual earnings: $47 million
The outspoken daytime television star, Judge Judy Sheindlin, makes a mammoth $47 million per year. It may seem like an unreasonably high figure, but just this year, the issue was brought before a judge who ruled the salary was negotiated fairly. It’s good to be a daytime television star.
#27. “Survivor” cast member who makes the jury
Annual earnings: $40,000
Obviously, everyone goes on CBS’s hit reality show “Survivor” with the dream of finishing first and winning $1 million. But, according to a former cast member, there’s a handsome payout for simply making it past the merger and onto the final jury. According to the cast member, each person who make it that far gets $40,000, and the two runners up get $110,000 each.
#28. Host of the Academy Awards
Annual earnings: $15,000
In 2016, Jimmy Kimmel revealed to a radio show in Los Angeles that he was paid $15,000 to host the biggest night in film. While lots of money for a regular person, the sum seems small for Kimmel and the event—for context, he is paid $15 million per year to host his late-night show.
#29. Super Bowl Halftime performer
Annual earnings: $0
Calling the Super Bowl a cash cow is an understatement—it’s more like an elephant stuffed with gold bullion. Last year, NBC was projected to make about $385 million off ad sales during the broadcast, and yet Justin Timberlake performed for free. Like so many bloggers and artists before him, Timberlake played one of the biggest stages on Earth for exposure, not money.
Annual earnings: $51,930
There are 319,860 firefighters in the U.S. and each of them works tirelessly to ensure a swift response to every blaze. The mean hourly wage for firefighters is just shy of $25 at $24.97. However, firefighters often have shifts that last far longer than the average eight-hour work day.
Annual earnings: $141,890
After three years in law school—with the average cost of private law school being $47,112 per year and public being $26,864—and passing the brutal bar exam, it’s not surprising that lawyers are so well-paid. While lawyers argue in court, they also work in negotiations, in politics, and all over other industries.
#32. Elementary and middle school teachers
Annual earnings: $58,064
It may be shocking to some how little the people tasked with teaching and caring for the country’s next generation are paid. Though the average salary for an elementary and middle school teacher is $58,064, pay varies greatly by state. Oklahoma teachers are the lowest paid, making $45,245 per year. In San Francisco, the most expensive city in the country, an average teacher makes $65,240 per year—the median two-bedroom apartment in San Francisco would cost $55,800.
Annual earnings: $60,700
The average librarian is paid $60,700 per year. Though portrayed as shushing tyrants, librarians work to guide children and adults in their learning, leading programs at libraries, and showing patrons where to find the materials they need.
Annual earnings: $180,010
Widely feared, these sharp-tooled mouth doctors make healthy wages for helping clients achieve healthy smiles. Protecting one’s oral health has been regularly linked to living longer and healthier lives. Most recently, a study came out linking unhealthy gums to heart disease—it might be a tenuous correlation, but it’s still worth flossing just in case.
Annual earnings: $251,890
While the salary of a surgeon might be staggering, one has to remember the challenging work-life balance many of these professionals struggle to achieve. Many doctors build massive amounts of debt from medical school, some surgeons experience career burnout, and there's always the risk of potential malpractice suits.
#36. Registered nurse
Annual earnings: $73,550
Much of the hands-on, day-to-day operations in a hospital are dealt with by nurses—nurses are in contact with patients all through the day. Today, registered nurses are in high demand and the profession is expected to grow by 15% over the next decade.
#37. Massage therapists
Annual earnings: $44,950
Speaking of hands-on, massage therapists rub down the backs of the nation for the same salary as a McDonald’s manager. But the massage world is a tipping industry—20% is the standard, so at a fancy spa, a massage therapist can expect an extra $20–30 per treatment.
#38. Parking enforcement officers
Annual earnings: $40,840
Parking enforcement officers are widely disliked in society, as they are the people visibly giving drivers their day-ruining tickets. But the job is far from glamorous and not highly paid, so, by golly, give the meter maids a break.
#39. Fast food cooks
Annual earnings: $21,610
There are almost 4 million fast food employees across the country and the cooks in back make an average of $21,610. Not only are the fast food companies making huge profit margins off this underpaid work, but they are also investing in robots, which may displace many workers.
#40. Maids and housekeepers
Annual earnings: $24,630
Maids and housekeepers clean up for guests at hotels and motels across the country. Their pay of $24,630 is far from a living wage for most—and the industry is a hotbed for terrible and unrelenting sexual abuse.
#41. Elevator installer and repairers
Annual earnings: $77,130
Almost $80,000 per year seems like a lot for an elevator installer or repairman, but most people would pay any amount not to be stuck in a broken lift. The idea that these hulking metal boxes, attached to thick cables, can pull us hundreds of stories off the ground is too terrifying to even consider—just pay these guys whatever they want to make sure everyone stays safe.
Annual earnings: $27,920
As Oprah so beautifully put it: “I love bread!” And yet, bakers, who usually start their shifts before the sun has risen, are paid quite a small amount.
#43. Commercial pilots
Annual earnings: $89,350
In the heyday of air travel, there was no more dashing or dapper profession than the Pan American pilot. But as flying has become a more and more uncomfortable—and casually dressed—affair, the pilot has lost some of his or her luster. Still, $90,000 per year to travel the world is quite a gig.
#44. Flight attendants
Annual earnings: $52,660
Just as the Pan-Am pilot was the crescendo of cool, the Pan-Am flight attendant was the essence of elegance and beauty. But air travel has changed and now flight attendants have a much tougher gig: keeping a plane full of irritated adults happy—or at least, quietly annoyed. The job is a tough one and the pay is not amazing, but the travel perks can’t be beat.
#45. Bus drivers
Annual earnings: $35,000
Driving a public bus doesn't appear to be an easy job. Tasked with moving a hulking 35,000-pound vehicle through busy city streets is hard enough—dealing with keeping order and safety inside the bus is a whole other job entirely. Public transit helps make a city slightly more equitable for an area's residents.