How Much is Enough?

Two articles that appeared on April 1 in USA Today caught my attention. At first you might think they were an April Fool’s joke. Over a million homes went into foreclosure this year and last. Nearly 15 million people are unemployed and, according to a Gallup Poll last year, 30 million more are underemployed. Poverty is pervasive among people of color, especially their children. More than a third (34 percent) of African American children and 29 percent of Latino children live below the poverty level. A report in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine in November, 2009 noted that nearly half of all children and 90 percent of black children will be on food stamps at some point during childhood. And yet we learn that 75 percent of top CEOs received raises in 2010. While middle and working class people are tightening their belts and being inexorably forced into poverty, (one in seven lives below the poverty level in the U.S.), we find that the compensation of the top 25 CEOs ranged from a low of $15,121,370 for David Cordani of Cigna to the “comfortable” $84,409,515 of Phillippe Dauman of Viacom. (USA Today, April 1, 2011:2B)

It would seem the economy is doing well—at least for some people.

On page 12C of the same paper sports aficionados can scan the salaries of all the teams and players in major league baseball. There are disparities there, too, though many people struggling with their rent or mortgage payments, food, fuel and health care bills probably would not commiserate with players on the “low end” of the scale, drawing in a paltry $414,000 annual salary. And who would begrudge Alex Rodriguez, of the New York Yankees his $32,000,000, or Vernon Wells of the Dodgers his $26 million? With average player compensation this year at $3.31 million, they won’t have to worry about cuts in Medicaid, Head Start, and food stamps.

Should we begrudge businessmen and athletes their salaries? The American Dream, based on the concept of a meritocracy, holds out the promise of wealth to anyone who works hard and plays by the rules. Tell that to the victims of Bernie Madoff, and the millions of children who were not lucky enough to be born to wealthy parents or win the genetic lottery as they struggle to survive. I ask you, how much is enough? Is any job worth that kind of money? What will be the effect of the recent budget deal on the lives of American children?

H. Roy Kaplan is Research Associate Professor in the Department of Africana Studies at the University of South Florida, and author of The Myth of Post-Racial America.


  1. ernie5229

    Mr Kaplan – I enjoyed your article but feel I must point out a few things about capitolism that, if left unsaid, might lead some of your readers to somehow form a link between skin color and the chances for success in America. I will start by answering the question, “Is any job worth this much? [many millions]” The CEO of a large company runs a business that employs tens of thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands of people. It takes an extremely skilled, educated, experienced and driven person to do this. If it was easy, anyone could do it! So, yes. To have someone so skilled as to be able to employ that many people, it IS worth it. The same argument can be made for sports. Just because the game itself can be deemed unimportant, the livlihood of the tens of thousands of people that depend on that game cannot.

  2. ernie5229

    The beginning of this article references many statistics about people “of color” and how pervasive poverty is for them. While it is not stated outright, the implication is that there is a causation link between skin color and poverty. Is this valid? On a national scale I guess I could give the benefit of the doubt and say “maybe… a LITTLE bit”. But on an individual basis the answer is a resounding NO WAY! Do not let this website, or anyone else, tell you that because you are “of color” you are less able to do ANYHTING you want to do. I have worked in the service industry for years, and let me tell you, a good PERSON is hard to find. And when that person is found, nobody cares about skin color or anything else. Sure, you will always have a small number of idiot bigots (from ALL races) but if you set your goals high and you work hard you CAN improve your situation. Is this guaranteed for people of color? No. Neither is it guaranteed for any other group. ANYONE can have hard luck just like anyone can have good luck. The only thing certain is that if you listen to people that constantly drill it into your head that you can’t succeed because of your skin color, you probably won’t even try. And if you don’t even try, I GUARENTEE you won’t succeed no matter what your skin color!

  3. Blaque Swan, previously No1KState

    It’s been too much for far too long. But there’re just way too many people who . . . Let me put it to ya like this – every since I can remember, the national consensus has been that teachers aren’t paid enough. And still, the Koch brothers were able to convince people in Wisconsin and other midwest states that teachers are paid just waaaay too much. Of course, teachers were okay with some cuts in pay and benefits. Republicans just used the opportunity to gut public workers’ unions. All in the name of “shared sacrifice.” But allow the taxes of the top 1% of income earners to go back to what they were under Clinton? That’s theft by state, apparently, not shared sacrifice.

    And millions of viewers don’t see the contradiction!

    I feel pretty safe in assuming ernie5229 won’t be stopping by on a regular basis, but just in case – success in America is not based on merit, effort, or any such thing. True, if you don’t try you won’t succeed. But don’t think that the reason people aren’t successful is that they aren’t trying.

    And there are a kabillion and one studies showing that skin color does matter.

  4. cordoba blue

    In regard to ernie5229, I have to whole heartedly agree that in the real work force, reliable people are very hard to find! An intelligent manager will always hire an industrious employee over a lazy one no matter what their color..because it’s JUST GOOD BUSINESS.
    Of course, race plays a role in employment. It’s not that African Americans have a privileged pass like whites. However, as ernie pointed out, blacks should not role over and die because of racism. To drop out of high school, to shrug your shoulders at the capitalist system and simply state,”Hey, America doesn’t like why even try?” is suicide. Just plain suicide.
    Blaque Swan desires whites to change their attitude regarding racism. Many whites will if sites like this proliferate. Many whites never will. Where does that leave African Americans. The mantra of Blaque Swan is “Whites must change how they view blacks..whites must change how they view blacks..then everything will be fine.”
    Really? You mean if a black person drops out of high school at age 15, and whites change their perception of blacks, this student will be fine? Or is it because he made a personal choice to work at Burger King rather than educate himself? Is it because school was boring and required hard work, because it is boring and does require work.
    If a WHITE kid drops out of high school at 15, are his chances really any more positive than the black student’s? I don’t think so. You can quote site after site that relates how blacks have a harder time finding employment, or their pay levels are below the pay levels of whites, but MOST of these sites don’t take educational levels into account. Lack of education generates lack of job prospects. A hard working African American with a strong work ethic WILL FIND EMPLOYMENT.
    Regarding the service industry in particular, I know several black managers of restaurants, hotels, beauty parlors, and gyms. I’ve lived in the South my whole life. Maybe that makes a difference. I can’t speak for the reality in the north. All their white subordinates respect them because they are extremely reliable and industrious and expect the same from everyone matter what color. I’ve seen them fire black employees in a heart beat if they continuously display a negative attitude. You wanna whine instead of work? Out. When responsible black managers fire irresponsible black employees it’s not because of racism.
    This is an inspiring website, but I would not want it to discourage young African Americans to simply curl up and wait to be arrested for joining a gang and engaging in illegal activity because, “Hey..white people ALL have to change before you can achieve anything.” Like ernie said, NO WAY is this accurate.
    Education, by the way, is a job in itself. Writing essays, memorizing algebra formulas, studying for exams is work! And there’s just no way around that. And teachers are not obligated to make school an amusement in “the reason kids drop out is because they’re bored”. Like white kids aren’t bored? Everybody gets bored in school. ANY college student would rather be at the beach than working on an essay..but they push themselves for a long term goal. That’s black AND white college students.
    At the end of the day, smart employers are looking for industrious people with positive attitudes. Don’t keep looking at the ground, when you are capable of flying. Acknowledge racism but don’t let it cripple you for eternity. Life isn’t over because you were born black.I’d hate young black people to incorporate that into THEIR mantra.

  5. Joe

    Cordoba, some good points, but many employers (and most of the powerful ones with lots of hires are still white men) just prefer people who look or act or talk like them. They hire whites first, often from their networks or those of existing employers, as the research by people like D. Pager shows…. Her research shows better qualified college grads who are black do worse that more poorly qualified whites because the latter have good white networks to jobs… Many employers are not ‘smart’ in your sense.

  6. cordoba blue

    I am aware of that some whites prefer an all-white work environment. But how does all this research account for the African Americans who are successful? All I’m suggesting is a balanced approach here. If you, as ernie points out, “drill into” a young person’s head that he is doomed to fail, he will indeed fail. The classic self-fulfilling prophecy.
    If a teacher gives you a “D” on a math test, how long can you chalk this up to racism? The teacher was racist? The math test was racist? Maybe it’s because you didn’t set aside the time to study. If you emasculate people enough, they’ll start to believe it themselves.
    Once again, does this merit a truly suicidal attitude that will inevitably place a black young man on the track to nowhere forever? It begs the question, all racist studies taken into respectful account, what would a fierce anti-racist advise young black students to do?
    I consider myself such an individual, and my answer is “Don’t believe anything negative about yourself. You hold your head up, and work with courage and faith in the future.” Alternative: “He’s racist. She’s racist. She did that because you’re black. He said that to you because you’re black. Your white teacher gave you a “D” cause she’s a racist. It’s not your fault you received the poor grade. The school is racist. The principal is racist. It has nothing to do with your personal choices.”
    You take everything away from a black student and give him nothing in return. Not everyone is cut out to be a black activist. Most blacks just want to earn a living. But if you tell a student he has no choices because the entire world hates him, you are destroying him from the inside out. An exquisite formula for suicide.

  7. Blaque Swan, previously No1KState

    @ Cordoba – First off, I second Joe’s comment. Your assumptions just have no basis in facts.

    Secondly, yeah, everything would be fine if whites would just change their attitudes towards people of color and about justice. It’s just that simple.

    That said, don’t use what you assume I believe as a straw man. Again, your assumptions have no basis in facts. Neither the facts of my position regarding how blacks should respond to racism; nor the facts of how the black community does respond to racism.

    I’m sick of having the same argument with you over and over again. Please, don’t reply to or call me out until you can address my full position. Don’t misrepresent my position just to make me your straw-man.

  8. cordoba blue

    Blaque Swan believes erroneously that :”Secondly, yeah, everything would be fine if whites would just change their attitudes towards people of color and about justice. It’s just that simple.” And I don’t expect a reply from Swan. I’m just throwing this out there.He/she asked me not to address her. I’m not per se addressing this person.
    The point is this totally strips young African American students of any incentive. WRONG. ILLOGICAL THINKING ALL DAY LONG. Personal choices that will propel the individual forward instead of keeping them behind will always make a difference in someone’s life. What does Blaque Swan suggest black students do while they await the awakening of the white race?
    Assign blame for every time anyone does not do their homework to the racism of the teacher? Assign blame every time someone receives a D to the “mundane boring manner in which the subjects are taught”. Obviously Swan is neither a parent nor a teacher.
    Try entertaining 30 students 8 hours per day so NOBODY EVER GETS A TEENY BIT BORED. As a parent, explain to your child he/she doesn’t need to apply himself in scholastic pursuits because “You’ll never win anyway. You’re BLACK!”
    Productive personal choices and courage ALWAYS makes a difference. Why do black and white police officers visit students in schools explaining the dangers of illegal drugs? Ever heard of the JUST SAY NO program? If African American kids have to wait for a white epiphany to make any progress, why did the police start this program 25 years ago? And the police should know what’s happening on the streets better than anyone else. Black police officers are the BIGGEST proponents of using personal choice to defend yourself against a wasted life. Don’t let the “hood gangs” dictate your decisions! Use your mind to look forward to the future. There are enough decent white people out there to put a talented, hard working black person in a profitable job position. Not all doors are bolted shut, as Swan would have us believe.
    Again, you are doing a huge disservice to all African American young people by making comments such as “Black children don’t do well in school because of the inherent racism in the system.” FORMULA FOR ENDING UP ON THE STREETS JOBLESS AND MISERABLE.

  9. Blaque Swan, previously No1KState

    @ Cordoba – Don’t reply to or call me out until you can address my full position. Don’t misrepresent my position just to make me your straw-man.

  10. ThirtyNine4Ever

    Cordoba, First, I could use your logic to prove that gambling on slots machines is a positive thing. If it wasn’t how do you account for the people that win the jackpot?

    Secondly, telling someone the odds are worse for them doesn’t equate to telling them to just give up. And yes, if a white kid drops out at 15 their chances are better than if a black kid drops out at 15.

    Thirdly, if an employer gives a white candidate the job over an over a more highly qualified black candidate, should we just ignore it or should we acknowledge that there is racism in the world?

    and for straw man arguments and the ilk, in the antebellum south would you say that the slaves should have quit complaining and just accepted their place? If not there then in the Jim Crow era would you suggest that blacks that complained were giving up and blaming all their problems on racism? How about blacks now that are victims of institutionalized racism? At least on that you have made your opinions clear.

Leave a Reply