What people earn is Parade magazine's annual feature.
The national list of what Americans make is highlighted by the earnings of actors, singers, professional athletes, business leaders and other prominent figures, from the Barbie doll at $3.3 billion to rapper Jay-Z at $82 million.
But Parade also tries to keep it a little more real by including the annual incomes of a Realtor, teacher, plumber, airline pilot and truck driver, among others. Aaron Vrooman, a trucker from Lancaster, S.C., makes $54,000 a year, and Julie Sorenson, a certified nurse's aide, from Glenwood, Utah, earns $20,000.
Part of the fun of today's Parade issue is the guilty pleasure of seeing how much some of the nation's rich and famous earn, although most people already know those amounts are obscene. On the other hand, if you or I were making that kind of dough, it would be completely justified and we'd have earned every penny, dollar or euro. It just depends on who's name is on the paycheck.
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Another part of this issue's appeal is seeing where we stack up against others who perform similar jobs in other parts of the country. If you're a trucker, do you make more or less than Vrooman? Or, if you're a nurse's aide, how do you rate compared with Sorenson?
Remember, though, it's a random sampling. There's nothing scientific about it. So no matter where you land on the earnings comparison to those featured in Parade or anywhere else, don't get too excited about it or too depressed. It's strictly for your entertainment.
The reality is that if you're working in the Northern San Joaquin Valley, there's a good chance your pay isn't keeping pace. That trend is well established and has been widely reported.
The annual income for a job in Stanislaus County, for example, is $39,477, according to 2008 figures compiled by the Employment Development Department.
Here's a sampling of what the EDD survey found valley folks earn:
— Farm, ranch or other agriculture manager $74,950
— Accountant or auditor $56,500
— Computer programmer $68,419
— Engineer $87,186
— Lawyer $140,233
— Floral designer $23,555
— Caretaker (health care) $23,291
— Bartender $18,086
— Housekeeper $24,920
— Retail salesperson $22,700
With unemployment approaching 20 percent, just having a job in the valley is a lot more important than what it pays. Employment analysts confirm that there are scores of overqualified people working in minimum-wage jobs -- and glad to have them.
The same lack of diversity among the valley's employers that contributes to the high unemployment rate also holds down wages.
"With the industry mix we have right now, we are probably bumping up against the top of what they can pay and still remain competitive in global markets," Bill Bassitt, chief executive officer of the Stanislaus County Economic Development and Workforce Alliance, said of food processors.
While the alliance is committed to strengthening those businesses because they form the backbone of the valley's economy, Bassitt said, it's also trying to find ways to bring higher-paying industries to a region with a work force that lacks the skills and education levels they demand.
But with unemployment levels at highs not seen in more than a decade, the pool of quality workers is deeper than usual. Some of the Bay Area transplants may have taken their skills back over the Altamont, but there's not a lot of hiring going on over there either. Those who stay here only add to the talent pool.
The problem, as Bassitt sees it, is that commercial real estate vacancies are increasing in the Bay Area, so companies don't need to move to the valley to find a new home or additional space. As vacancies rise in the Bay Area, prices come down and the valley is less attractive for those contemplating a move.
Also hurting the region's ability to bring in new industry are recent increases in Modesto and Turlock irrigation district power rates. As the gap closes with what PG&E charges industrial customers, Bassitt said, the valley loses one of its key attractions for new industries -- cheap electricity.
"Businesses and industries that don't have to move right now aren't," Bassitt said. And those that don't have to be in California won't be coming here because the cost of doing business in the state is so high, he said.
Until those conditions change, your pay may not be as high as those in Parade who are doing similar jobs. But pay levels in the valley have been improving in recent years, although not as fast as elsewhere. Every dollar counts, though.
Of course, if you're working in local government, a fire department, law enforcement or as a public education administrator, then your chances of earning six figures are better than the rest of us.
Don't begrudge them that. The next time you want help because there's a fire, robbery, community service crisis or school that isn't making the grade, that will be money well spent.
As for what the rest of the people in the valley earn, it's not enough. At least not when compared with Barbie.
Bee business editor David W. Hill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2336.