What do you make? It used to be considered a rude question. Some say it still should be, but these days other people's money has become an obsession, and for public employees in a struggling economy, it's a question under increasing scrutiny.
The first salaries that grab your attention are movie stars and CEOs. Did Tom Cruise deserve the $75 million Forbes reported the actor earned in one year? With the latest Mission Impossible film grossing $700 million at the box office, some would say, yes. Similarly, corporate executives often point to company earnings to justify large incomes.
But what about something a little closer to home? And what about jobs where the link between performance and profit isn't as obvious? The average annual salary for a Kentucky police officer is around $48,000. The actors who portray them may generate more revenue, but it's hard to put a price on public safety and the risks real police face every day.
"Police officers, I don't feel they're paid enough. I work alongside a lot of police officers, and I don't feel that they're fairly paid," Lexington Fire Captain Arthur Ashley said. The average annual salary for a full-time Kentucky firefighter is around $52,000. Ashley says while everyone would always like to make more, he's very comfortable with what he gets paid. "Starting firefighter here is about 30-thousand, but we have rank because you have to have supervision, and over the years when people test for that position, and they're promoted, you go from lieutenant to captain to major and on up. You can go upwards of $100,000."
Statewide averages show a broad spectrum. Orthodontists, more than $205,000. Family & general practitioner physicians, more than $172,000. Pharmacists, over $111,000. Physician assistants, nearly $95,000. On the other end, a fast food cook makes a little over $17,000. Bartenders, about $19,000. Hairdressers, close to $23,000. Telemarketers, about $26,000. Pest control workers, almost $30,000. Closer to the center, emergency management directors, make close to $42,000. Postal carriers, almost $50,000.
While Ashley says what he makes is fair, not everyone is as fortunate. "Teachers don't get paid enough," the firefighter said, "For what they have to put up with, and there's specialized training there as well."
"I don't feel that teacher pay is appropriate for the amount of work that we do, and for the amount of time that we spend getting the education to be education professionals," Jessica Hiler said. Hiler has taught elementary school for 11 years and says it's unfair that the average annual salary for a Kentucky classroom teacher is about $50,000, especially compared to other professionals with advanced degrees. "Doctors and lawyers have to learn how to read and have to learn how to add and subtract, and without the teachers that taught them that, they wouldn't be doing these other things."
It's an important reminder that for many of us, what we're worth is often more than what we make.
According to the U.S. census the average 2010 per capita income in Kentucky was $22,515.