The 1%

When my son was born and I held him in my arms for the first time, I could only think of one thing: God I hope I don’t drop him! After watching the nurses wrestle him into his car seat and my first time changing his diaper–not the smoothest, gentlest thing ever to happen in his life–I realized that I wasn’t going to break him. At that moment, a new thought took hold of my mind and it hasn’t let go since: I hope my son does great things in life. It’s a dream every parent has for their child. We hope for greatness in our prodigy. From an early age, dad’s are outside throwing a ball at their sons, moms are taking daughters to soccer camps before the kids can run ten yards without stumbling; we sign up our children for every possible “camp” and summer activity just to give them a leg up on the competition. As parents, we size up our offspring’s competition. We bury our children beneath the mounting burden of our hopes and dreams.

And it should be this way. Okay, maybe not to some extremes that we see around us (talking to you pageant moms!). But not a single one of us woke this morning, tasted our chalky dreams in our mouths, stretched our rickety arms over our heads and counted all the pops and cracks to make sure we haven’t added any new ones to our arthritic collection, trudged to the bathroom for the third time since we went to sleep, and started our day thinking: I’ll be damned if I don’t just want to spend my days living inside a moldy washing machine box over a heating grate downtown hoping for some scraps of food from charity. And, we would never wish that for our children.

i-am-the-1-percent1

I want my son to be a part of the 1%. There. I will freely admit that. Heck, there’s no reason that I don’t wish that for myself, too. But we do. We want our children to be great and a part of that greatness carries the baggage of wealth and the responsibilities that come with it (and have, in many cases, gone by the wayside… taxes?)

Then why do we vilify the 1%? Because they achieved something that we didn’t and our jealous rage is so fueled by some mysterious Iago that we are willing to cast down the 1% with the treacherous in the ninth circle of hell? And who are these 1%er’s that are frozen in ice?

According to the IRS, earnings of nearly $400,000 sets you at the base of the 1%. You are in the top quarter of wage earners if you earn more than $67,000. In this light, I have no problem hoping my son makes it to the 1%, and I hope he makes it into the top fifty percent of the 1%. With these numbers, every single player in the NFL (base salary for one season play–$405,000), the MLB (base salary for one season of play–$500,000), the NBA (one year of service–$490,180), and the NHL (base salary for a rookie–$525,000, but they are negotiating for $800,000) is a member of the 1%. Does anyone have a problem with these 1%ers? I have read many blogs and discussion boards on the topic and most people are fine with athletes making this much money, and save their derision for the CEO’s and “corporate elite”.

I can understand, at the most fundamental level, why people are okay with this: They all want their sons and daughters to be in this club. Look at Texas and the “Friday Night Lights” phenomenon. One high school outside Dallas built a $60 million football field for their high school. And, in reality, none of these parents wants their child to be just a base rookie; we want stars. The average salaries for the four major sports, according to Yahoo Sports are as follows: NBA–$5.15 million, MLB–$3.31 million, NHL–$2.4 million, and NFL–$1.9 million. These numbers push the “average” player deep into the 1% category. And this doesn’t even include endorsement deals. Look at their salaries this way. An average NFL game has approximately fourteen minutes of actual activity–read: plays being run. Fourteen minutes. The remaining two hours and forty-six minutes you spend on the couch watching the game is the team calling plays, changing sides, half-time, and commercial time outs. That means a player would see about seven minutes of time on the field, and one-hundred-twelve minutes across a season. That “average” NFL player just made $1.9 million for an hour and fifty-two minutes of work. I want that kind of pay. If the NHL gets it’s way, there’ll be players who might see five minutes of ice time a night (play six or so shifts), maybe forty nights a year making $800,000. Those of you like me who struggle with math, that’s $4000 a minute or $241,000 an hour. “But wait, Mr. Dumas, you forgot about Spring Training and preseason. Their pay is a part of that, also.” What is the purpose of preseason? To get ready for the regular games, the paycheck games. Preseason is professional sports’ equivalent of college for the working world. Did you get paid to go to college? I didn’t. I paid for the privilege. Then there are the free hotels, flights, trainers, weight rooms and gyms. These don’t even get entered into the pay of the players, and, most often than not, are part of the player’s contract as extras. Call them bonuses. The added compensation to the base pay.

Though I would agree that the salaries of most top executives is nearly obscene to the point of overtly disingenous, I don’t see how those salaries would be anywhere close to the hourly wages earned by athletes. At the bottom end of the Fortune 500 companies we find CA Inc. a company that provides  IT management software and solutions. Its CEO, Michael P. Gregoire, earned a salary of $243,849 and a total compensation package of $5,804,047 (Source: Salary.com). For an NBA player, he’s just about average. His initial salary doesn’t even put him in the 1% and he probably worked eight-hour days and, being generous, took a total of three months off. That would mean he worked roughly forty weeks for 1,600 hours of work. That would give him a net worth about $3,627.5 an hour. At the other end we find Rex Tillerson, Chairman and CEO of Exxon Mobil, who made a base salary of $2,567,000 and a total compensation package of $27,229,300 (Source: Salary.com). This would put Mr. Tillerson in the rarified air of Kobe Bryant, Alex Rodriguez and Cliff Lee, Aaron Rodgers, and Tiger Woods. All men who play a game.

6a00d8341c657753ef012875c6cada970cI have neglected another group of 1% that we laud, cherish, and devour any news about them as though it nourished us in ways that no meal could. Entertainers. My television vice is consumed by two shows: “NCIS” and “The Big Bang Theory”. And there, we find members of the 1% not by their annual earnings, but what they earn per show. Mark Harmon brings in $525,000 per episode. He’s a 1% just for doing one show. Ashton Kutcher is at the top of the list earning $750,000 per episode for his work on “Two and a Half Men” (Source: Paid Actors). “The Big Bang Theory” might just supplant both Kutcher and Harmon:

But there could be some new titleholders on the horizon, sources tell TV Guide Magazine. The three leads of “The Big Bang Theory”— Johnny GaleckiJim Parsons and Kaley Cuoco — are expected to seek new deals that pay them up to $1 million an episode of the top rated sitcom. Each member of the trio currently earns around $325,000 an episode in the contracts that expire after the upcoming season.

As a society, in general, we tend to ignore the 1%ish-ness of these actors, but it is hard to ignore the fact that these people earn as much as, if not more than, the highest paid CEOs in America.

And then there is the anomaly, the beloved trust-fund “brat.” There was a time when you couldn’t throw a rock in America without hitting something with Paris Hilton’s likeness. If it weren’t for her 1% father, she wouldn’t have existed. We despise the father, but adore the wealthy offspring. How to explain that one, I don’t know. Maybe it is because, like many of us wish for ourselves, Ms. Hilton got hers the easy way.

Why do we despise Mr. Gregoire and Mr. Tillerson, but widely accept Mr. Bryant and Mr. Woods and Mr. Kutcher?

The answer to that might just be where we place our values.

Mr. Tillerson is an Eagle Scout and earned his Bachelors of Science in civil engineering from the University of Texas at Austin. He started working for Exxon Mobil as an engineer and worked his way up to the CEO position. Kobe Bryant graduated high school. From CA  Technology’s website: Mr. Gregoire, “a native of Niagara, Ontario, Canada… holds a master’s of business degree from California Coast University and a Bachelor of Science degree from Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario, Canada.” And, like Mr. Tillerson, worked his way through the ranks to his CEO position. Tiger Woods went to Stanford for two years before quitting to play professional golf full time. Does any of this mean that one deserves a greater pay than any of the rest of us? Of course not, but there are those pesky laws of supply and demand. There are only 1696 men “qualified” to be on NFL rosters. Laws of supply/demand says that those 1696 men will earn more. Say there are eight members of the senior management team at each major company (CEO, COO, etc.) that would mean there are 4,000 men and women “qualified” to do those jobs at the Fortune 500 companies. 4,000 men and women of nearly 320 million. If we accept the law of supply math for athletes, so too, we must accept the laws for senior management.

For many, sports is seen as the easy way to get ahead and Americans tend to like the easy way. Case in point: The Lottery. Why do we play lotteries? To win ten dollars? Nope. Those who play dream of winning big, and in some cases disgustingly big. (And, for the record, I have no problem being the sole winner of the largest jackpot in history). Winning the lottery and winning big sets the winner in the .01% of the 1%, a space reserved for royalty and oil sultans in the Middle East. But I digress. Back to values. As a teacher, I see education losing value in our society. Education is hard. Earning a degree is harder. Earning an advanced degree… well, you can forget about that. And it just costs too much. Giving my kid a football or baseball and hoping for the best is cheaper and easier. Somewhere along the line in our history, we’ve lost the notion of hard work and the rewards that come from it. Instead, we laud the loafer as symbolizing the plight of those who struggle and condemn those who worked hard. This may sound pompous and chastising, but remember, when you look at all those fancy graphics that show that the bottom fifth of society is keeping less and less of the “pie” than in the past, ask yourself what level of education and work ethic that group, as a whole, has? In the past, someone with a high school diploma or GED could do well in life and effectively avoid the bottom rung of society, but as technology and the general infrastructure of life has moved on, those jobs have all but disappeared. When I first started teaching, I’d have long talks with students who’d look me in the eye and say, “My dad dropped out of high school and we are doing fine.” True. Your family is doing fine. And your father dropped out in the 1970s. This is an entirely new generation. In the 1970s, when technology was in its infancy, a low-skilled worker could still join the workforce and was able to grow with the advancement of tech. They were able to keep a larger share of the economic pie chart. Now, those same entry level jobs, if they still exist, require a greater level of competency than before and a GED or diploma won’t cut it. Inflation rarely moves equal to wage increase. Earning $20,000 dollars right out of high school was amazing in the 1960s, doing so now is living in poverty.

To move from the bottom fifth (or whatever bracket you place them in) might work with income redistribution for a short time, until inflation catches up and prices level out higher. 2011-higher-ed-05-24Give everyone a million dollars and a million dollars becomes worthless. You just have to look at the rampant inflation during the 1930s in Germany to understand that fact. To truly get someone in a better position, educate them. Encourage college. Don’t be like a former student of mine who came to me on her sixteenth birthday with a withdrawal form. When I asked why she was withdrawing from school, her response shocked me. “My dad doesn’t want me smarter than he is.” He just condemned her to a life in the bottom bracket. Instill a hard work ethic from a young age. As children, give them the opportunity to play sports, visit museums, sing, dance, and draw. Working hard and winning as a child goes a long way to teaching them to work hard and win in life. If we “redistribute” the wealth from the top, I certainly hope it isn’t to increase minimum wage or just give out checks. The government needs to create grants and programs to get the bottom end into school, free, absolutely free, so they can pull themselves up and stay there.

We give athletes a pass because we want our children to be them one day. We give actors the same leniency. As proof, all you have to do is look to “American Idol”, “The Voice”, and any other of the myriad of shows that look for talent. Everyone wants their shot at fame and fortune, and behind them is an eager parent hoping to be able to retire early. None of this requires college, and, really, high school, for that matter. If Honey Boo Boo and a tattoo artist in Los Angeles can do it. We chastise the CEO because they worked hard to get what they are earning?

And we have to ask ourselves: Are the salaries of athletes and actors appropriate when we call into question the salaries of the captains of industry. One the one hand we have people who entertain. That’s it. They entertain. They don’t add anything to society other than a few moments where we can ignore the troubles of our days. The decisions that Mr. Gregoire (and his management team) makes impacts how we utilize technology, communicate, proceed with banking, and organize health care. For most Americans, our 401k’s are tied into the well-being of the Fortune 500 companies and I would rather a man with the experience of Mr. Tillerson making decisions for Exxon Mobil than one with Kobe Bryant’s education. In the long-run, these denizens of the ninth level of hell do so much more for our society than other members of the 1% could even begin to imagine. If we cast the CEO to the depths of the inferno, so should we our beloved athletes and actors. If we chose to keep the actors and athletes among the pantheon of the beloved, then we need to make room for the CEO.

As my son nears ten years of age, I have come to realize that my hopes of standing beside my son and the Stanley Cup will only happen now if we happen to be in a museum or stadium where it is on display. And I hold no ill-will toward my son for his lack of desire to play sports. He is smart. He will do well. And, one day, I hope he takes Mr. Tillerson’s job. For the rest of you 99%, I hope you achieved the 1% yourself and that your dreams for your child come true. Just don’t forget to give to those less able (won’t call them less fortunate because that implies they just don’t have enough money) and pay your fair share.

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2 thoughts on “The 1%

  1. Good read but I do take issue with a few things you’ve said. Saying that the preseason is like college for athletes is completely untrue. Their “college” was probably spending thousands of dollars a year on their sport growing up. I can assure you that it adds up to a college education cost (especially in more expensive sports like hockey). You then state that entry level NBA players probably work 8 hours a day, right after saying that NFL players make 1.9 million for an hour and 52 minutes of work. You also need to remember that most athletes careers last less than ten years, so that money is in many cases their retirement fund as well. And although I do think CEO’s and the like deserve to make a ton of money and we need them, some are making more than they could ever spend by exploiting those on the front lines. We all want our kids to be in the 1%, but what we need is for the “1%” to become a much smaller amount of people with less greed.

    • Thank you for taking time to give a thoughtful comment. Most responses these days on the internet or just putdowns and partisan hack. I understand your perspective on my preseason comment, and respect your views, but as I see most kids in the NFL or NBA didn’t come from family backgrounds that could afford that kind of club level athletics. Many of these kids have inherent talent. When you state that the athletes have a limited career, pointing out that most last less than ten years, I would argue that for the vast majority it is even less time than that, but they don’t have to use their play salary as their future retirement fund (though a wise athlete would tuck money away). The four major professional sports unions have set up pensions and retirement plans. You can read here– http://www.foxbusiness.com/personal-finance/2012/09/25/go-long-retirement-plans-for-pro-athletes/ (note: I’m not partial to Fox News, it just happened to be the clearest description I could find quickly). However, how long does senior management spend at that level. They join the workforce roughly around 24 (post-undergrad) or 27 (post-grad, and spend time in the land of the 99%. After ten, fifteen, maybe twenty years working in middle management, they have climbed their way to the top. The years they spend at the “top” are about as long as an athlete’s years at the “top”. For athletes, they have the reverse situation going from the top to the trenches, but both have the same opportunity to earn the 99% wages and the 1% wages. About the greed, I can’t agree more, however, this is a bitter legacy of the 80s.
      Again, thank you for your thoughtful response, and I wish you all the best today and in your future!

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