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How to put a shine on an old sneaker

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By Jim Flynn

On rare occasions we indulge in frivolous observations for our own entertainment and that of our readers. Parade Magazine’s annual “What People Earn” feature offered an opportunity to frivol a bit.

Parade’s income report offers a temptation for average folks to indulge their envy of celebrities’ earnings. It isn’t exactly class envy, because celebrities aren’t a class, and many of them don’t have any class. What they do have are agents who know how to negotiate big contracts.

Maybe Congess and the Obama administration should each hire an agent.  So far Congress and the White House have been taken to the cleaners in every bailout deal they’ve made — banks, auto companies, and Wall Street fast talkers. Some Washington politicians think lobbyists are agents.

An admirable celebrity politician is hard working Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York City. Mr. Mayor accepts $1 annually for his difficult job off running a huge city with numerous responsibilities. They don’t make many like him any more.

Similarly, a commissioner in Travis City, Michigan, gets $4,100 for her public service. In contrast, some of our elected public servants receive generous compensation for narrow responsibilities, and say they manage their private interests after sunset.  

We were confused and concerned by some of the work descriptions in the Parade report. We’d prefer not to know what a surgical coordinator does, and what happens when she’s out sick.

Does a gambling counselor help gamblers get addicted or unaddicted? Is a federal aviation manager running a government airline we haven’t been told about?  What does a sports blogger do that sports media don’t do?

Who is overpaid in our society? Mediocre athletes, noisy singers who look like they’re eating microphones, low-talent show-offs pretending to be actors, political talk-show blatherers, executives of failed and bailed companies, retired Congress people and presidents. Poiticians who are well paid and pampered during their temporary employment, and they earn plenty more after they leave office.

Who is underpaid in our society?  Ann Sin, age 34, math teacher, Clovis, California; earns $66,000. If we’re going to compete with countries which are turning out more math and science graduates than we are, we’re going to have to pay teachers with graduate degrees in math and science (not education) at least $66,000, and more. There’s something wrong with our country when an aerobics instructor in Wisconsin earns $78,000, far more than many teachers.

Also underpaid is a 42-year-old Deputy Sherriff in Philadelphia, Pa., who earns $47,800. Every officer who stops a vehicle or enters a building in response to a call places his or her life in jeopardy daily. Similarly, paramedics and firefighters who respond to daily calls for help earn less than thousands of city, county, and state government paper shufflers. 

We wonder what political brilliance dictates that police officers and firefighters are worth less than a letter carrier in Charlotte, North Carolina, earning $53,700 and a probation officer in Flagstaff, Arizona being paid $58,000.

Other than celebrities, who has the best jobs according to the Parade review? Job titles which ended in specialist and analyst seem to be good. We wonder what a public housing analyst does for $65,000. How about an air quality specialist in the desert of Las Vegas at $79,000, and a forensic video specialist in Norman, Oklahoma at $64,000?

Job title words like assistant, aide, adviser, and even manager can mean lots of work but low wages, somewhere just above minimum wage but often less than $35,000.

In a still falling job market, work of any description is better than none. In its chatty text Parade Magazine revealed the best job market (North Dakota) and the worst (Michigan, South Carolina, and Rhode Island).

What the Parade report didn’t disclose is that the official unemployment rate is one of many manipulations government uses, trying to put a shine on a sneaker. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) keeps six variations of the unemployment numbers.

In March 2009 the publicized number (called U3) was 8.5 percent. A more realistic number (known as U6) was 15.6 percent. U3 includes the people collecting unemployment. U6 adds people who have stopped collecting, have given up looking for work, or are doing part-time work until something better comes along.

Parade took a swipe at shining up the unemployment sneaker. They reported cobblers are in demand, for anyone able to speed learn a trade.

The shining star of hope in the Parade article was a pet sitter/dog walker from St. Louis, Missouri, who claimed an annual income of $100,000. For those who just couldn’t part with ole Buddy’s dish and leash, a new prosperity may be waiting right in our own neighborhoods. 

Jim Flynn was formerly a corporate counsel, served in military intelligence during the Korean War and once aspired to be a newspaper columnist.