According to the U.S. Census’s most recent available data, the median household income for the state of New Jersey in 2005 was $61,672—not too shabby when you consider that New York was at $49,480, California clocked in at $53,629, and Florida tallied $42,433 (understandably, considering it’s a Northeast retirement mecca).
It’s hardly news that we have more than our share of residents at the top of the financial food chain. But here’s the $61,672 question: How are the rest of us doing? What are we making? Do we like what we’re doing, and where do we want to be five years from now? We got answers from a wide range of people, including a tattoo artist, a psychologist, a toll collector, and a federal prosecutor, among others.
Even with our reputation for brashness, New Jerseyans don’t necessarily like to talk about how much they make. Some were forthcoming. Others got cold feet. (Well, yeah, the boss could be reading this). But no matter which job puts bread on the table, nearly everyone seems to enjoy at least some aspect of what they do and nearly everyone has specific ideas of where they want to be in five years.
So go ahead, take a gander at our gallery and peruse our piquant potpourri of pecuniary statistics—and see where, or if, you really fit in here.
Name and occupation: Wanda Milliner, toll collector
Location: George Washington Bridge
Why this job: When I was a little girl and would cross the bridges with my mother, I always told her I would like to have a job as a toll collector. The collectors were always nice. I like dealing with people.
Length of time on the job: Thirteen years
Starting salary: $17,602
Current salary: $50,856
Best things about the gig: If you do your job, no one bothers you. There’s no one over your shoulder, and most customers are really nice.
Worst things about the gig: Working rotating shifts because it interferes with my private life.
Target salary in five years: Mid-sixty thousand
Five-year objective: I would like to be a tolls supervisor. I have a lot of experience I can bring to the table.
Name and occupation: Brianne Sardoni, high school English teacher
Location: Rumson Fair Haven Regional High School
Why this job: I enjoy sharing my knowledge with students. I feel as though I am helping them become well-rounded citizens, more aware of the world they live in.
Length of time on the job: One year
Starting salary: $44,000
Current salary: $44,000
Best things about the gig: Summers off, nights and weekends to myself, feeling like I am contributing to the betterment of society, creating more educated individuals to change the future of the world, and becoming emotionally attached (in a good way) to the well being of my students.
Worst things about the gig: Early mornings, lots of planning and preparation, value of job tends to be unrecognized, salary does not corroborate with work ethic and education required.
Target salary in five years: $55,000
Five-year objective: Have my doctorate and work as an adjunct professor at a local college.
Name and occupation: Mario Barth, tattoo artist (clients include Lenny Kravitz, Jason Kidd)
Location: Flagship store, Rochelle Park
Why this job: This job chose me a long time ago. I just picked up the tools and had a natural talent for it.
Length of time on the job: Professionally, since 1989, seven days a week.
Starting salary: Nothing. I did it as a favor to friends, which led to a chain of events.
Current salary: Low seven figures
Best things about the gig: Designing new tattoos for my clients. And now the ability to give back: We host fundraisers for local charities and a charity I started, Starlights Starting Over, which helps former gang members get a new life by removing their gang symbol tattoos in exchange for community service.
Worst things about the gig: That there are not enough days in the week.
Target salary in five years: As long as it keeps a steady uptrend, I am perfectly fine—I do not like to limit myself.
Five-year objective: Open in foreign countries and raise $1 million for CureSearch and the Childhood Cancer Foundation. And spend more time with my wife and son.
Name and occupation: Nick Marrone, general manager and driver for 1-800-GOT-JUNK?
Location: Lives in Secaucus, works all over.
Why this job: Getting into a company from the ground floor was appealing, plus there are unlimited possibilities for growth.
Length of time on the job: Six months
Starting salary: $50,000 to $60,000, plus bonuses up to 50 percent
Current salary: Same as above.
Best things about the gig: Meeting people and gaining the experience of running my own business, since I’m charged with managing the entire territory.
Worst thing about the gig: Getting dirty. We’ve been called out to some pretty nasty jobs. We walked into a house once that looked like it hadn’t been lived in for years. The dust was completely unbearable and it smelled worse than some of the dump sites we take our junk! We found two dead raccoons and some other species we have not been able to identify in the basement crawl space.
Target salary in five years: $150,000 plus
Five-year objective: I’d like to own my own business.
Name and occupation: Kevin Derk, personal trainer and weekend TV meteorologist
Location: Xercise Inc., Chester, and WBRE, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania
Why these jobs: I get great satisfaction helping others achieve their goals—fitness isn’t the priority it should be in peoples’ lives. I’m a meteorologist because I love the weather and get a real thrill out of it.
Length of time on the job: Personal trainer, twenty years; meteorologist, eleven months
Starting salary: Personal trainer, $15,000; meteorologist, $12,000
Current salary: Personal trainer, $45,000; meteorologist, $12,000
Best things about the gig: As a personal trainer, connecting with people and simply loving what I do.
Worst things about the gig: You have to be careful of burnout when dealing with the public. There are so many different personalities you come into contact with. Even on days when you’re not at your best, you have to put aside your problems to motivate your client.
Target salary in five years: $100,000
Five-year objective: Meteorologist, full-time, in a major market
Name and occupation: Christopher J. Christie, United States attorney
Why this job: Doing justice every day is incredibly rewarding.
Length of time on the job: Five years
Starting salary: $139,000
Current salary: $145,000
Best thing about the gig: The chance to make a real difference.
Worst thing about the gig: Not enough hours in the day to do everything the job gives you the chance to do.
Target salary in five years: More than it is today.
Five-year objective: A job that makes me happy and fulfilled.
Name and occupation: Dr. William E. Ward, clinical psychologist
Location: Montvale and Manasquan
Why this job: After leaving the seminary, I was completing my master’s in counseling and being taught by a gifted psychologist. He showed that a therapist could reach into the depths of a person’s mind and heart and help them to live a more purposeful and creative life.
Length of time on the job: 31 years
Starting salary: $10,000
Current salary: $180,000
Best things about the gig: Participate with the client in relieving their pain and suffering and watch them start living a purposeful and meaningful life.
Worst things about the gig: When you see the beauty of a person and they fail to see it themselves, it becomes a tragedy of a life.
Target salary in five years: Since private therapists are paid on an hourly basis, and one can work only so many hours, the income stays consistent.
Five-year objective: My ideal would be to remain a therapist but perhaps cut down the hours, and also start writing and teaching.
Name and occupation: Lori Stokes, ABC news anchor
Location: WABC New York; lives in Bergen County
Why this job: I’ve always loved writing stories. I thought my talents were more geared toward fiction as a young person. After one and a half years of college, I changed my major from English to broadcast journalism and fell in love with writing facts and the power of the press. As a journalist, you have the responsibility to be fair and to understand just how much influence you have—even today with the waning trust and blurred lines of so many media sources.
Length of time on the job: I entered the broadcast industry when I was a student at Howard University. I was a production assistant at a local Washington, DC, television station, and then I applied for a job as a general- assignment reporter and weekend anchor in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. That was my first on-air job (1987). I stayed there for ten months before moving on to Charlotte, Baltimore, Washington, DC, MSNBC, and now WABC.
Starting salary: As a production assistant, my salary was $14,500. My first anchoring job paid $16,000.
Current salary: Mid-six figures
Best things about the gig: Interviewing world leaders, renowned authors, celebrities, former presidents, leaders in health and technology. I also realize the impact I have on viewers and never abuse that trust: I try to tell it like it is. And now I love waking viewers up…or joining them on the treadmill…or being with them as they get the kids out the door. I enjoy being a part of the morning routine.
Worst thing about the gig: Getting up at 3 am—especially in the winter.
Target salary in five years: Enough to allow my daughters to continue to live in the lifestyle they’ve become accustomed to. I’ll take whatever is left over!
Five-year objective: Hopefully, sleeping past 3 am. My dream is to one day have a cooking show. The troubles of the day seem to slip away when I’m in the kitchen. Creating recipes and cooking are my therapy and allow me to escape from the stress of the job. My kitchen is my refuge. Until then, I’ll just keep saying good morning and thank you to our viewers who allow Eyewitness News This Morning to come into their homes every morning.
Name and occupation: Jim Spanarkel, Merrill Lynch institutional consultant and investment advisor, and television commentator for the New Jersey Nets
Location: Works in Paramus
Why this job: As a former NBA player, I look forward to basketball season when I sit in the broadcast booth and do television commentary for the New Jersey Nets. My “real” job is as an institutional consultant, which I love. I think that my basketball career helped prepare me for this role because I am constantly looking to develop new strategies and new approaches to addressing my clients’ needs.
Length of time on the job: I have worked with Merrill Lynch for the past 23 years and have been in the broadcast booth covering the New Jersey Nets for the past twenty years. It is hard to believe that so much time has gone by since I was drafted into the NBA by the Philadelphia 76ers in 1979.
Starting salary: $30,000 in 1984 at Merrill Lynch
Current salary: Mid-six figures
Best things about the gig: I love that I have the opportunity to help clients achieve their dreams.
Worst things about the gig: I am lucky that there aren’t any bad things about working with Merrill Lynch or as a broadcaster. I have no complaints.
Target salary in five years: I would love for my salary to increase steadily—possibly double—in the next five years.
Five-year objective: Looking back, if you had asked me in 1979 what my life after professional basketball would be, I couldn’t have imagined where I am today. I’ve learned from that transition that you can do anything if you set your mind to it. Five years from now, I would love to still be with Merrill Lynch. There are still so many new opportunities.
Name and occupation: Lynne Strober, family law attorney
Location: Works in West Orange
Why this job: I feel particularly lucky because I feel that I have found the perfect career for myself. It provides me with a variety of ways of helping people; negotiating agreements, courtroom action, research, and writing. It allows me the opportunity to address people’s problems and help solve them. Years ago I considered becoming a social worker, but this career is a much more take-charge approach to problem solving.
Length of time on the job: Almost 29 years
Starting salary: $25,000
Current salary: Six figures—bills $385 an hour
Best things about the gig: I’m a member of a wonderful law firm that provides me with enormous flexibility so that I can co-chair the Family Law department [at my law firm] and at the same time be able to attend to the needs of my children. I also have a terrific group that I work directly with: We are a well-oiled machine that keeps everything flowing smoothly without tension or argument.
Worst things about the gig: In my area of practice, my toughest task is being responsible for how people are going to live out the rest of their lives. Consequently, the counsel and guidance I give my clients influences how they’re going to raise their children and the amount of money they will have. If a case is not going perfectly, it can be very upsetting. Sometimes, there are very fine lines you have to walk in counseling a client. You don’t want to make more out of the case then it should be, but you certainly don’t want to treat issues in the case lighter than they really ought to be.
Target salary in five years: At least what it is now and certainly more.
Five-year objective: Hopefully, exactly what I’m dong now—working with clients and continuing to work within the legal community to enhance the practice of family law throughout the state. I really like what I do for a living and I intend to continue to do it forever. The law is a very flexible career. I’d like to balance my practice with more time for myself—perhaps take more vacations.
Name and occupation: Jack Weinstein, chief financial officer, Catalyst Pharmaceutical Partners
Location: Works in Upper Saddle River
Why this job: It was the next logical career step for me, transitioning from an investment banker specializing in healthcare finance to join one of my long-time clients’ new pharmaceutical venture.
Length of time on the job: Part time since October 2004; full time since November 2006 when we completed our IPO.
Starting salary: $200,000 since November 2006
Current salary: $200,000
Best things about the gig: Working with a small group of experienced executives with many years of pharmaceutical experience to bring a drug to market that has the potential to improve the lives of millions of people worldwide.
Worst things about the gig: Meeting the never-ending SEC filing deadlines required by a public company.
Target salary in five years: Approximately double what it is now. However, like many start-ups, the real compensation comes in the form of equity ownership.
Five-year objective: Grooming my successor as CFO of Catalyst and devoting more time to personal interests.
Name and occupation: Larry Mullin, president and chief operating officer for Borgata Hotel Casino and Spa
Location: Atlantic City
Why this job: I enjoy the people aspect of this industry—whether building relationships with customers, associates, or business partners—and the excitement of the anything-can-happen casino environment, whether it’s witnessing a $2 million jackpot winner, the unveiling of an expansion, putting together a major music festival, or a championship boxing match.
Length of time on the job: I’ve been fortunate enough to work in the Atlantic City casino industry for more than twenty years now. I started working in the casinos fresh out of college taking an entry-level marketing position and was able to work my way up. I was exposed to many facets of the business—first working with the rewards program, then as a casino host.
Starting salary: $6.50 an hour
Current salary: I settle up with the company every two weeks.
Best things about the gig: Being able to work with a great team. I love the energy of property and seeing people having a great time drinking, dancing, chatting over a glass of wine, playing cards with friends in the Poker Room: these moments are what it’s all about. Plus the excitement of new projects like the Water Club (a new signature Borgata Hotel) opening up in early 2008.
Worst thing about the gig: That there is not an eighth day of the week.
Target salary in five years: I try to focus more on what I’m doing and if I’m enjoying the work. If I’m doing what I love, it makes all my hard work worthwhile.
Five-year objective: I hope to be fortunate enough to continue doing what I love.
Name and occupation: DeLeon Sheffield, gospel singer (youngest person ever to be nominated for a Grammy, at age 9; wife of baseball player Gary Sheffield
Location: Lives in Alpine
Why this job: It was something that happened at such an early age—it basically was dropped in my lap. My mother, who was a church choir director, recognized that I had talent and began to help craft the talent. But most important, I know God gave me this voice, and I want to do everything I can to use it for Him.
Length of time on the job: I have been singing every since I was two years old. Approximately 28 years!
Starting salary: I probably received about $25 for the first performance. There’s a big difference from then and now!
Current salary: Rather not say.
Best things about the gig: Seeing people’s response to my music, traveling to new and exciting places and meeting wonderful people around the world.
Worst thing about the gig: Sometimes the travel can be a double-edged sword! I love it, but sometimes it can definitely take its toll.
Five-year objective: I would like to see my singing career have multi-platinum sales and for my music to be heard in every continent. I want to see my business (record label and publishing company) be among the top fortune-500 companies.
Name and occupation: David Burke, chef, restaurateur, and culinologist
Location: New Jersey (David Burke Fromagerie), New York City (davidburke & donatella, David Burke at Bloomingdale’s), Chicago (Primehouse David Burke), Las Vegas (David Burke Las Vegas)
Why this job: My nickname as a teen was “Imagine If.” I was always the guy coming up with the new things, creating and inventing. I get bored easily, I love to cook and play with food, creating combinations – there are so many amazing flavors that I’m constantly inspired by food and even the world around me.
Length of time on the job: I started in kitchens as a teen, so more than 25 years.
Starting salary: First salaried line cook job, 1982: $500 a week for 65-70 hours
Current salary: With my various partners at the restaurants, I’m doing very well (six figures).
Best things about the gig: Making great food and creating a great space for people to enjoy themselves.
Worst things about the gig: The long hours, standing on your feet for twelve or more hours, and the heat of a hot kitchen.
Target salary in five years: I’m happy with what I’m making because I’m enjoying what I do.
Five-year objective: I’d love to open a couple of more places and hope to have people continue to love my food.