10) Wedding Photographers
Wedding photographers charge $2,000 to over $5,000 to shoot a wedding, for what amounts to a one day assignment plus a client meeting (and processing time). They must cover equipment and film development costs (with digital cameras, this cost goes away). Still, many photographers in major metros shoot two weddings each weekend in the May-to-October season, and can rack up $75,000 to $100,000 for six months work. And much of their work is mediocre. No adjustments for missing the best shot of the day, missed opportunities or amateurish techniques. No retakes.
9) Airline Pilots
While American and United pilots took pay cuts, senior captains earn as much as $250,000 at Delta, and their counterparts at other major airlines still earn between $140,000 to $220,000 - several times the pay that pilots at smaller regional carriers receive - for a job that technology has made almost fully automated. By comparison, senior pilots make up to 50% less at low fare carriers like Jet Blue and Southwest, but enjoy perks like stock options. That explains why their employers are profitable while several of the majors are still teetering on bankruptcy, and asking for government bailouts.
However, keep in mind that pilots on commuter lines are earning $25,000 to $40,000.
The pilot's unions are very powerful. They demand premium pay as if still in the glory days, rather than the cutthroat, deregulated market of low cost coast-to-coast roundtrips. Because we entrust our lives to them, consumers accept the excessive compensation negotiated by their unions (when it's airline mechanics who really hold our fate in their hands).
This may be changing, due to carrier mergers and bankruptcies, but no new data has been published recently.
8) West Coast Longshoremen
In early 2002, West Coast ports shut down when the longshoremen's union fought to preserve very generous healthcare benefits that would make most Americans drool. The union didn't demand wage hikes, because its members already were making a huge paycheck. West Coast dockworkers earn an average of $117,600 for handling cargo, according to the Pacific Maritime Association, their employer. Office clerks who log shipping records into computers will earn $139,000. Foremen who oversee the rank-and-file members will take home an average $177,000.
Unlike their East Coast counterparts, who compete directly with non-union ports in the South and Gulf of Mexico, the West Coast stevedores have a lock on Pacific ports. Given their rare monopoly, they can seriously disrupt commerce -- and command exorbitant wages, even though their work becomes more automated and less hazardous every year.
Many of the baggage handlers who check your curbside luggage pull in more than $100,000 a year -- most of it in cash. On top of their $30,000 salaries, peak earners take in $300 or more a day in tips. That amounts to a $2 tip from 18 travelers an hour. Many tip much higher. While most skycaps are cordial, many treat travelers with indifference, knowing passengers don't want to attempt counter check-ins.
Their work is more mindless than that of a fast food counter worker, who at least has to bag the order correctly (and they make less than 20% of a Skycap's earnings). Skycap perks: no liability for sending your luggage to the wrong destination, no personal accountability or liability, no refunds. Education requirements: none.
This occupation, however, is coming to an abrupt end, with new check-in regulations. It is expected to fade away over the next couple of years... as skycaps become unnecessary.
6) Real Estate Agents
Anyone who puts in a little effort can get a real estate license, which makes the vast commissions that luxury home agents earn stupefying. While most agents really hustle to earn $30-60,000 a year, those in affluent areas can make $200K for half the effort, courtesy of high priced listings. However, sellers are finally shopping around, and beginning to negotiate fees down before signing a listing agreement. The more expensive the property, the more negotiable the fee. The real estate bubble has hit a lot of high earning agents directly in the bank account.
5) Motivational Speakers
Whether it's for Rudy Guiliani ($100K per speech) or Tom Peters, corporate groups pay astronomical sums to celebrity types, authors and political has beens to pump up their convention audiences. Former President Reagan raised the bar in 1989 when he took $2 million from Japanese business groups for making two one-hour speeches. President Clinton earned $10.5 million on about 60 speeches last year.
For a 35-hour week, orthodontists earn median salaries of $374,000 a year, according to the Journal of Clinical Orthodontics. General dentists earn less than half as much working 47 hours a week on average. The difference in their training isn't like that of a transplant surgeon vs. a family practice doctor. It's an extra two years and a rewarding investment if you're among the chosen. U.S. dental schools have been criticized for keeping orthodontists in artificially short supply (to keep their incomes high).
This isn't neurosurgery. Orthodontists manipulate teeth -- and often leave much of the adjustment process to low paid assistants (whose work they bill for). What makes their windfall earnings egregious is that they stick parents with most of the inflated bill, since orthodontia insurance benefits cover nowhere near as large a percentage as for general dentistry.
This is the same as having a first year associate in a law firm handle your case (behind the scenes, completely unknown to the you), and the partner bills out the hours at his/her much higher hourly rate, which can typically run $100 to $300 more per hour. Your $1000 fee for legal work becomes $4000. It happens everyday.
3) Chief Executive Officers
Most CEOs are grossly overpaid (if you ask the shareholders) - but if their company is rewarding owners and employees, producing quality products of good value and being a responsible corporate citizen, it's hard to take issue with their compensation package.
CEOs at unprofitable companies (and those always lagging industry peers) stand as the nation's most overpaid citizens. Most know they should leave - in the shareholders' and employees' best interest - but they survive because corporate boards that oversee them are stacked with colleagues, friends or, in some cases, even family.
The ultimate excess comes after they're finally booted, usually by powerful insiders tired of seeing their own holdings plummet. These long-time losers draw multimillion-dollar severance packages as a reward for their failed stewardship, as an incentive to leave. There is no penalty for a CEO's incompetence.
In 1980 CEOs made 42 times the annual salary of the worker, and in 2002 it skyrocketed to 419 times (according to Financial Economists Roundtable Report, 11/2003). In 2007, a CEO of a Fortune 500 company averaged $9.91 million in compensation, not including other benefits.
2) Pro athletes
Pro athletes at the top of their game may deserve what they earn for being the best in their business. It's those who sign whopping, long-term contracts after a couple of strong years, and then find their talents vanish, who reap unconscionable amounts of money.
A NBA player, for instance, earned $10 million in a year he averaged 6.1 points a game. Braves pitcher Mike Hampton earned $9.5 million -- in the second year of an eight-year $121 million contract -- while compiling a 7-15 won-loss record. Thank the players' unions for refusing to negotiate contracts based on performance - and driving up the cost of tickets to unaffordable levels for a middle class family, especially for pro football and basketball. They point to league owners as the reason, yet Tiger Woods earns his income strictly on his personal performance in each tournament.
1) Mutual Fund Managers
Everyone on Wall Street (it could be argued) makes far too much for shuffling money - based on results generated from software that's making most of their decisions -- but mutual fund managers are emerging as among the most reprehensible. Stock fund managers can easily earn a salary of $400,000 to $5 million a year (including significant bonuses above base salary) -- even though only 3 in 10 have beaten the market in the last 10 years.
Now we discover a large number enriched themselves and favored clients with illegally timed trades of fund shares. That's a worse betrayal of trust than the corporate scandals of recent years, since they're supposed to represent (and level the playing field for) the small investor --- including many thousands of engineers.
Put aside what fund managers earn... and consider their managers. Putnam's ex-CEO's income (estimated at $167 million over the last five years) rivals the bloated pay package that sparked the New York Stock Exchange President ouster.
Then you look at the salary of a typical engineer.
They may design and develop a blockbuster product that earns their company millions, but they usually receive nothing in return except a paycheck... and a couple of percent more every year. Some companies give a paltry bonus for a patent, but rarely does an engineer working for someone else ever get rich... or even really comfortable... on their personal creativity and ability.
Their innovative and revenue producing ideas become Intellectual Property owned by the corporation (remember that employment contract you signed).
We can't think of any cases (and we tried) where you can point to a group of engineers and say "Are they overpaid or what?"
Engineering salaries, taking into consideration education and responsibilities, the stress of accelerated delivery schedules and their direct impact on corporate profits and overall success of the company, seem absolutely inadequate.