One measure of an ailing society has to be the large gap between the salaries of normal people working in education, science, and government and television performers. For example, the median elementary school teacher salary is $50,590. A licensed practical nurse earns $39,772; a dentist, $136,303; a biostatistician, $143,392; a level 1 engineer, $54,948, a clinical psychologist, $63,000, and a firefighter in New York City, $37,426 to $81,313. These figures come from a variety of websites--for example, salary.com, payscale.com, careeroverview.com, about.com--which, admittedly, are somewhat dated. Even if we increase these salaries substantially to take inflation into consideration, the comparison wouldn't suffer. Added to this comparison should be the approximately 10 percent unemployment rate and the hundreds of thousands of people who are homeless.
Compare these salaries with that of Charlie Sheen (of Two and a Half Men) who earns $1,250,000 per episode--in a 23 episode season that comes to $28,750,000. The four Desperate Housewives each earn $400,000 per episode for a season salary of $9,200,000. David Caruso and Marge Helgenberger (of CSI) each earn $350,000 per episode for a neat annual salary of $8,625,000. Ryan Seacrest earns $15 million, Judge Judith Sheindlin, $45,000,000, and Oprah Winfrey, $315,000,000. All figures come from TV Guide, August 16-29, 2010.
So, what's wrong with this picture? These extreme salaries of our television stars--and the same kind of comparisons can be drawn with athletes--push up the cost of television production. This cost pushes up the cost for advertising. The high cost of advertising pushes up the price of the products the teacher, nurse, dentist, and all the others purchase. So, it is the people making well under $200,000 who are paying the bulk of these salaries. [Of course, people making over $200,000 also pay for these salaries; it's just that there are fewer in this group than in the under $200,000 group.]
But, more important than this, these salaries--and, unfortunately, these discrepancies--define our society's values. These salaries tell our children and our students what really counts and what counts not so much.
Why do we allow this to exist?