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What People Earn: Then & Now

A peek at American paychecks over 30 years: The ups, downs and surprising turnarounds




Doug Olsen found his calling early: teaching science to middle schoolers. In 1983, he appeared on the cover of PARADE 's first issue dedicated to American salaries. He stood before a blackboard in Seattle, chalk in hand, 30 years old, earning $18,700 a year. He was happy and hopeful. He said, "I wouldn't dream of doing anything else."

[Related: How happy are you at your job? Take the job happiness survey now.]

Since then, America has faced an economic seesaw like few generations have seen. Three major booms and as many busts, unemployment veering from highs and lows not experienced since the Depression, new industries created, new kinds of help wanted, old industries --- and job titles --- relegated to history books.

Like the early 1980s, many of us today wonder what the economy has in store, how jobs will evolve, how salaries will change, and how to best carry on the pursuit of happiness in America.

If you could start over, would you pick the same field? Take the survey now.

To mark its 30th What People Earn report, PARADE contacted hundreds of people previously featured to see how their careers have fared over the years. Many had lost their jobs or quit them, while others had become the boss. Some relocated to find work, others embarked on a new path entirely. Almost all of them faced challenges from an American job market in transition.

[Related: Signs You're in the Wrong Job]

In 1983, Doug Olsen's career goal was to stay in front of a blackboard. Despite tough years of downsizing and restructuring, he achieved it. Three decades later, PARADE found him at the same school. He had recently retired --- at a salary of $58,000 --- and now volunteers there daily. “My passion always has been kids' education. I'm grateful for my 31 years of teaching, and I'm happy to say my daughter has followed my footsteps.”

Meet several other Americans who stayed the course through volatile times, as well as many more who went to Plan B.

[Related: Colleges That Return the Most on Tuition]

Malia Delapenia
Delpenia launched the Hawaii Belly Dance Convention, an annual event with visiting dancers. "My business has matured a lot."













Ricky Huddleston

“You have to do well to get paid. You have to win,” he says. “I broke my elbow and that slowed me down, so I gradually quit.”














Bruce Schactler

"Yes, there are days of boredom, but also flashes of great excitement, the freedom to roam the ocean and work for yourself."














Jason Hennessey

"I miss being a DJ (and still have the equipment at home), but it helped me grow and made me a good public speaker."














Yvette McGee Brown

Brown became the first African American woman to serve on Ohio's highest court. "I love public service – making a difference."













Cynthia Wright

After her novels went out of print, Wright began self-publishing ebooks. “It’s never too late to rewrite the story of your life!”














Charlene Rose-Masuda

It’s not easy morphing into someone else for a living: “You have to really, really practice her makeup,” Rose-Masuda says.















How Happy Are You?

Many of the people pictured said they had found their dream job, while others told that they were off track.  Now we want to hear from you.

PARADE and Yahoo! Finance are teaming up to discover how Americans view their jobs and work cultures, their career priorities and prospects.  Would you fire your boss if you could?  Would you rather have a 5 percent raise or two more weeks of vacation? Take the survey now.
  
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