Fortunes, Fortunes, Everywhere!

Back in 2002, the Oakland longshoremen went on strike because they were against new technology which could cut their jobs.  The issue was quite contentious, and it was a matter of “national security” the union get back to work according to many politicians.  What I remember most clearly, however, were salary figures that just boggled my mind.

According to widely spread documentation at the time, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) required their longshoremen to work no longer than 35 hours a week.  Furthermore, it was cited that the average income for an Oakland longshoreman was between $100,000-$120,000, with many senior employees earning $160,-190,000.  When I read the news, it was about 8pm and I had been in the office since 5:45am.  For that one day, I dreamt I was a longshoreman.


Right across the Bay, there are 448 San Francisco city workers who make over $100,000 a year, and that’s not from working.  $100K+/year are their annual pensions!  Top earner is retired Chief of Police, Heather Fong, makes a tidy $229,000/year, retired!  Over at the Fire Department, 246 former employees or their survivors are receiving pensions of $100,000 a year or more – with 15 topping $150,000.

This is not a post to debate whether one type of job should make X amount of money or not.  Frankly, I do believe anybody who is serving our country and helping others should deserve the world! Don’t get me started on our budget cuts in education, and teacher’s salaries.  They deserve more.  This post is simply to illustrate that A LOT of different careers allow people to make a lot of money, not just the stereotype engineer, banker, doctor, lawyer, or private equity person.


These past 18 months have illustrated the grace of pensions and the superiority of public sector jobs, or unionized labor over the private sector during crisis times.  Think about it for a second.  Take a Senior Vice President at Lehman Brothers, who amassed $3,000,000 in LEH stock over his 20 year career.  One day the $3 mil literally disappears.  All he’s left with are his savings, 401k, private equity investments and whatever else.  Sure, the Lehman employee may have made on average $500,000/year during his career, but again, much of that was locked up in stock.

Meanwhile, compare the Lehman earner to a San Francisco policeman. The policeman  is the turtle, making a steady on average $75,000/year for 30 years.  Let’s say he puts away $250,000 in savings during his career and retires.  Not only does he have a quarter million dollars, he also has a pension that pays him 75% of his highest year’s salary, every year, until he dies!


Let’s do the math, based off a real life example from a golfing buddy of mine who is retired from the police force.

  • Highest working salary: $125,000.
  • Pension: 75% of $125,000 = $93,750/year in pension money upon retirement.
  • Retirement age: 60.
  • Life Expectancy: 88.
  • Value of Pension: $93,750/year X 28 = $2,625,000!

What’s more, pensions are adjusted for inflation, so let’s just round the number up to $3,000,000. The policeman blows away the banker in this time period, and matches the banker in any “normalized” time frame.


If you’re a car salesman, don’t look down on the prospective client dressed all shabby with flip flops.  He could be the multi-millionaire cash buyer that you’ve dreamed about thanks to his pension.  The client could even be a a famous personal finance blogger, with 70,000 readers, a book deal, and raking in $50,000/month from advertising revenue!  Same goes for all you snooty Maitre D’s!  You just never know, so you might as well treat everybody equally.

For all the parents out there, if little Nancy doesn’t want to be a Doctor, and little Timmy wants to be a fireman, that rocks!  Immediately go out and celebrate over a vintage bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape knowing your children will be financially secure.  I seriously wouldn’t fret about whatever career path they choose.  There are so many different ways to make good money, chances are high your children will do just fine.

There’s more money out there than we can imagine.  You may not have had the grades to enter that top law school to get that big corporate lawyer gig at Wachtell Lipton, but that’s ok.  There are tons of jobs out there that will pay you a lot of money, provided you stick with it for the long haul.  After realizing the plethora of opportunities out there, I rest easy knowing that Americans will earn their way out of this recession, and spend like the wind once more.

Readers, besides the examples above, any other high-paying jobs you’d like to highlight?  Do you agree that a lot more people make a lot more money than perception?


Sam @ Financial Samurai – “Slicing Through Money’s Mysteries”


Sam started Financial Samurai in 2009 during the depths of the financial crisis as a way to make sense of chaos. After 13 years working on Wall Street, Sam decided to retire in 2012 to utilize everything he learned in business school to focus on online entrepreneurship. Sam focuses on helping readers build more income in real estate, investing, entrepreneurship, and alternative investments in order to achieve financial independence sooner, rather than later.

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  1. William & Mary says

    It just goes to show that if you stick with something over the long run, you will be rewarded. A good balance would be to give it a go in the private sector for 10-15 years, and then try out the public sector, and work for the pension. Perhaps you’ll make a good amount in the private sector first. Then, upon joining the public sector, you wouldn’t need to be stressed about the lower salary, b/c you’re working for security.

  2. says

    Sickening. As our politicians try to “solve” problems like retirement, they know they will be making bank when they retire without having to worry about the market! This kind of stuff is hard for me to stomach, and a reason why I am so interested and involved in politics. There is a lot wrong with the “public sector” and it won’t change unless people start realizing it.

    Thanks for the valuable information in this post.

    • says

      I don’t know if it’s sickening, but I do know they make a very healthy coin. I had no idea, and now i know. The pensions for public service officers rock!

  3. says

    Here, it make me thinking of an idea, should I work in US to get an income, like say average $100,000 and then retire in China or developing South East Asia countries, where cost of living is much cheaper than US.

    • says

      Hi Andy – It’s not a bad idea at all. In fact, that is what many from China and The Philippines do. They get a work visa, save up a lot of money, send it home and live like kings afterwards. In fact, the “overseas remittance” money is enormous for the Philippines, and their economy.

      How did you find Financial Samurai, and what country are you from?

  4. says

    This is a great post and even better point you have made FS! There are so many jobs and ways to make a buck out there that are non-traditional, pretty much anyone with a desire to make some can. I wrote a post about how in America, no one really has a justified reason for not building wealth if that’s what they want. Compound interest being the main reason and time being the other.

    Great post man, thanks for citing it in your comment. I linked to it in that comment so others could find this post too. :)
    .-= Brad´s last blog ..People Need An Excuse To Spend Money, And They’re Eager To Find One =-.

    • says

      @ Brad – Cool man, glad you enjoyed the post. So many ways to make money, if someone really wants to, they can! Feel free to provide links or whatever in comments as you see fit. I don’t mind at all!

  5. says

    And the missing variable is….it’s not what you make but what you keep. Given “friend inflation” or whatever you want to call it, a lot of white collar earners making 150k per year have much less to show for themseleves than a blue collar guy with a 90k salary with 60k in overtime. Different lifestyle, different neighborhood, different group they run with. Generalization, but in aggregate I see a lot of 6 figure white collar earners in over thri heads.

  6. says

    I know this was posted a while back, so this will be the 1st comment on this in a while. However, I have to say that you’re spot on here. People need to think broadly, and question assumptions about how tough things can be and how there are limited options. This is not to say things are easy for everyone because they certainly aren’t. However, there are opportunities out there that some just overlook.

    Your pension example is great. I know some folks that are educators that may not be making big salaries now, but have very nice pensions lined up…..the type that corporate types (like many of us) aren’t a part of. The value of these pensions can be tremendous, and can be invaluable for retirement. Most people just don’t realize they’re out there.

    • says

      Hi Ray, thanks for your thoughts. Yes, the capitalized present value of one’s pension is worth A BOAT LOAD. The private sector and public sector need to realize this when bashing each other or complaining. And, the healthier you are, and the longer you live, the more valuable the pension!

      All about just being in the game, to take advantage of the inevitable upswings.

  7. Untemplater says

    The more options we have the better. I never would have guessed those dock workers make that kind of money!

  8. says

    If you go into a career purely for the high wages, you will probably fail! There are lots of jobs that pay very well, but I would not be very good at it. For example, auto mechanics at dealerships receive incentives and some make $200K! I would make a lousy auto mechanic. My philosophy is and always will be find something you love and you will be good at it! If you are good at it, you will be successful and well compensated. If you are not, you can leave!

  9. says

    Construction Management makes more than I thought. You can work with a general contractor for 10 years and expect to make 125-200k. Upper echelons can get in the 300-400k range (this includes bonuses). Not bad for needing a bachelor’s degree and decent communication skills (and it helps greatly to be a minority or female). I know plenty of people in construction who come from very diverse backgrounds (biology, sociology, engineering, math, golf course management).

    These are not laborers, but those that manage the laborers.

  10. says

    I work in Canada as a teacher and am hoping to one day be a recipient of one of those pensions. I actually would like to go to more of a USA-style defined contribution plan (I’m in a very tiny minority however). I hate the idea the someone else is responsible for my money earning far less on it then I might. I understand why the union provides this service (chiefly for people who can’t manage and invest their own money) but I wish we had the option. Say I wanted to use that money to fund my own small business, I do not have access to the money that I worked for, it is an automatic union deduction. I don’t like the no-choice factor, I just hope the current system holds up so under the boomer retirements and longer life expectancies. My gut tells me that my pension will look much different than the one I am funding for others right now.

    • says

      The no-choice factor is a safety net which helps far more people than hurts imo. There are too many spendthrifts out there who detonate their finances, and ends up hurting the rest of us!

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