Best-Paying Seasonal Job: Santa?

Many Americans were upset earlier this week that a mall Santa had been fired without cause, but outcry over the incident has reportedly forced Tysons Corner Center, one of the biggest malls in Washington, D.C. area, to reverse course.

Michael Graham, who had played Santa there for 18 years, reached an agreement with the mall to get his job back, according to the Associated Press. The surprise in the article, however, is that Graham makes $175 per hour as Santa!

Cue the Gershwin hit, "Nice Work If You Can Get It."

Graham's hourly wage is 10 times the going rate, AP reports. Where is the Professional Santa Claus Impersonators Association to comment on this?

Of course, being Santa is hard work: The outfit is hot and itchy, the kids can be bratty and demanding, and their parents even more so. But if you're good — and all accounts suggest that Michael Graham excels in the job — it could be the most lucrative seasonal job that doesn't require much training.

If Graham's Santa gig were full-time, year-round, the salary would put him in the top earning echelon, according to PayScale.com. Al Lee, PayScale.com's director of quantitative analysis, notes that the average anesthesiologist salary is $270K per year, or $135/hour. The typical salary for a CEO of a 500-person company is even less, at $251K per year, or $125/hour.

Even year-round full-time contractors (with degrees) don't make close to that kind of hourly wage. Contract recruiters in California make between $80 and $100 per hour, depending on years of experience, according to Bob Hancock, senior recruiter at Electronic Arts.

"I don't know anyone in my profession who makes $175 an hour, but then again," adds Hancock, "we do not require candidates to sit on anyone's lap during an interview!"

The Santa salary also holds up well against other types of workers hired on an event basis. PayScale.com's Lee points out that the average DJ makes $51/hour nationally, and top-earning musicians and singers can make $105/hour. Only top-earning photographers come close to this Santa range, at $225/hour.

Still, the Santa salary towers over what most holiday workers make. "The typical seasonal job, retail associate, nationally earns about $9/hour, with 'top earners' earning $13.25/hour," says Lee.

If you're on a quest for a high-paying seasonal job, get busy! For some helpful hints, read this outlook on holiday hiring.

The talented Mr. Graham may still be a bargain for the mall, as they have averted a PR nightmare and a possible boycott that would have scrooged holiday earnings.

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