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Obama's army of tax-paying secretaries

April 11, 2012: 1:04 PM ET

President Obama with his new friends.

A phalanx of administrative assistants and their millionaire bosses joined President Obama onstage Wednesday at the White House as he once again called on Congress to pass his "Buffett Rule."

Why the odd pairing of secretaries and millionaires? The general principle behind the rule is that millionaires and billionaires like investor Warren Buffett shouldn't pay a lower percentage of their income in federal taxes than middle-class households, and specifically their secretaries.

Buffett first proposed the idea last August, and in January, Obama made it a centerpiece of his State of the Union address. Buffett's secretary, Debbie Bosanek, attended the speech as a guest of the White House.

"I just feel like an average citizen. I represent the average citizen who needs a voice," Bosanek told ABC News. "Everybody in our office is paying a higher tax rate than Warren."

Obama is making a concerted push on the issue this week, arguing that Republicans in Congress are obstructing the implementation of this common-sense measure. Congress, of course, is unlikely to pass anything resembling the Buffett Rule during an election year.

The White House could have chosen any profession to highlight, but in many ways, administrative assistants are the perfect foil for a caricature of the uber-rich, tax-avoiding millionaire.

So how are secretaries doing? According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are just under 2 million secretaries in the United States. They make an average of $15.87 an hour, or $33,020 a year. That's well below the $45,000 per year average across all occupations.

But executive assistants can earn much higher salaries -- averaging $23.13 an hour, or $48,120 per year.

The top 10% of executive assistants bring in an average of $70,020. That's not too shabby, but geography matters too. In New York, the 10% of executive assistants earn an average of $87,040, a salary almost double the national average.

And Buffett's secretary, who is presumably an executive assistant in the top 10% and based in Omaha, is part of a cohort that earns $56,920 a year. Buffett and Bosanek have declined to reveal her salary in the past, saying the information is private.

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About This Author
Charles Riley
Charles Riley
Reporter, CNNMoney

Charles Riley lives and works in Hong Kong, where he covers markets, economics and other high-impact stories across Asia. He previously worked for CNNMoney in New York and CNN in Washington. He tweets @CRrileyCNN

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