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Celebrity Salaries: What Is Oprah Winfrey’s Annual Salary vs. Joe the Plumber’s?


Have you ever considered the reality that many famous people make more in a year than most of the world’s population makes in a lifetime? I thought about this recently when looking at the Forbes Celebrity Top 100 list for 2008. At the top of list, solidly in the lead, sits a proud and powerful Oprah Winfrey. Oprah Winfrey makes $275 million annually and her earnings are likely only going up from there.

I was trying to put her incredible salary into perspective so I decided to bring in America’s “everyman,” Joe the Plumber. During our 2008 presidential election season, Joe the Plumber represented, for many, the American middle class. According to an NPR article, Joe wanted to have his own plumbing business and was worried that Obama’s tax plan would push him into a higher, more costly tax-bracket. He hoped to earn $250,000 a year. So, what does a hard working plumber like Joe make in a lifetime?

According to PayScale’s database, a plumber with 10-19 years of experience earns $20.91 per hour. At a typical 2080 hours of work a year, that comes out to an annual salary of $43,493. If we guess that Joe will work for 40 years at that salary, he will earn $1,739,720 in those forty years. He would have to do that about 158 times to get to Oprah’s current annual salary.

If Joe could work his way to $250,000 coming in from a plumbing business, as he discussed in during the presidential campaign (It’s unclear if this number is net income but we’ll assume so.) his income would jump nearly six times from the $43,493 we calculated earlier. How cool is that?

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But, even then, as we sit here rooting for Joe and his business, Oprah Winfrey still earns 1100 times a year more than Joe’s dream amount of $250,000. 1100 times more! That means Joe, at his best, would need to work over one thousand years to earn what Oprah makes in a year. She’s making about $753,424 a day. $31,392 an hour. $532 a minute. $8.72 a second. It’s mind boggling.

She must have some very busy tax accountants, herself.

I’m not sure what to think of this information. I’m happy for Oprah’s success. I would also love to see Joe have his dream business. It’s just mostly hard to comprehend the burden and blessing Oprah’s enormous salary must be. She’s the biggest hitter in the one of the top industries in (by many calculations) the richest country in the world. Wow.

All I know is, if I ever get to have lunch with Oprah, I think I’ll let her buy.

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