Image: Santa Claus © Digital Vision Getty Images

Everyone knows Santa is a busy man. It’s not just keeping track of who’s naughty and nice. He’s a letter reader, list double-checker, manufacturing executive, sleigh driver, reindeer wrangler, product distributor and more.

All told, Santa would earn $134,944 this year, according to our analysis of wages from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That's up 1.5% from last year's Santa Index of $132,950.

Determining how much it would cost to replace someone's income -- or the unpaid work a person does for a family -- is an important step in deciding how much life insurance to buy. Of course, no one could replace Santa, nor will the world ever need to. Nonetheless, following are some of the tasks we considered when compiling this year's Santa Index:

Industrial engineer. Making toys might sound like fun and games, but it's not child's play. As an industrial engineer running the North Pole workshop, Santa supervises the design, development and testing of every gadget and trinket the elves produce. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job includes quality and inventory control, cost analysis, logistics and management of human -- er, elf, -- work factors. Annual earnings for eight hours a day every day: $111,792.

  • Labor relations specialist. Elves are a merry bunch, but that doesn't mean disputes don't erupt. Coordinating grievance procedures, handling complaints and resolving disagreements are all part of Santa's job. We figure he spends at least half an hour a day dealing with elf labor issues. Annual earnings: $5,167.
  • Correspondence clerk. The millions of letters from children can't go unread. Fortunately, Santa is a speed-reader. An hour a day as a correspondence clerk for 100 days a year would earn him $1,656.

  • Professional shopper. Think of the nightmare on Christmas morning if Santa didn't carefully select who received which toy. Susie would get the pair of skates, and Johnny would get the sled. Poor Nelly would get a storybook she's already read. Eight hours a day, 15 days a year spent selecting presents would yield $2,303.
  • Rancher. Reindeer don't take care of themselves. Santa feeds and cleans up after the herd, supervises reindeer games and steps in when name-calling gets out of hand. Annual earnings for one hour a day every day: $4,234.
  • Private investigator. Seeing you sleeping, knowing when you're awake and tracking the naughty and nice would normally be a 24/7 operation. If he squeezes in an hour of sleuthing a day in the month leading up to Christmas, the annual earnings would be $701.
  • Accounting clerk. Making lists and checking them twice for an hour a day during December would bring in $401.
  • Shipping and receiving clerk. The miracle of single-handedly distributing toys to every boy and girl overnight earns Santa a grand total of $146.50. Beat that, Federal Express.
  • Pilot. Guided only by the red glow of a reindeer nose, Santa drives his sleigh through the foggy night air and performs millions of rooftop takeoffs and landings. Average earnings for an airline pilot for 10 hours: $568.

Although carefully calculated, our Santa Index has one limitation. Nowhere in the federal labor data is a wage statistic for holiday magic making. That, dear readers, is priceless.

The Santa Index 2012: Earnings details

Santa’s job

BLS occupation used

Hours per day

Days per year

Mean hourly wage

Annual earnings

Manufacturing executive (workshop)

Industrial engineers

8

364

$38.39

$111,792

Professional shopper

Sales and related workers

8

15

$19.19

$2,303

Wrapper

Packers and packagers, hand

12

14

$10.81

$1,816

Labor negotiator (with elves)

Labor relations specialists

0.5

365

$28.31

$5,167

Letter reader

Correspondence clerks

1

100

$17.04

$1,656

Company representative in mall

Customer service representatives

8

21

$15.92

$2,675

Investigator (knows if you’ve been bad or good)

Private detectives and investigators

1

30

$23.37

$701

List checker (checking it twice)

Bookkeeping, accounting and auditing clerks

1

30

$13.38

$401

Taking care of reindeer

Farmworkers, farm, ranch and aquacultural animals

1

365

$11.60

$4,234

Snow plow driver

Highway maintenance workers

0.5

360

$17.47

$3,145

Pilot

Airline pilots, co-pilots and flight engineers

10

1

$56.76

$568

Going down chimneys (chimney sweep)

Building cleaning workers

10

1

$13.89

$139

Cookie and milk taster

Agricultural inspectors

10

1

$20.25

$203

Deliveries via sleigh (distributor)

Shipping, receiving and traffic clerks

10

1

$14.65

$147

Announcer (“Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”)

Public address system and other announcers

0.01

1

$19.17

19 cents

Total:

$134,944

Wage source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Santa's life insurance rates are out of this world

If Santa went shopping for life insurance, the rates might make him cry and pout.

Yes, Virginia, Santa is a risky customer.

We did a little checking for St. Nick and found he needs nothing short of a holiday miracle to qualify for life insurance at all, much less get decent rates. Good thing our favorite jolly old man will live forever and doesn't need coverage.

Here’s what’s working against him:

Age

The older you get, the more expensive life insurance becomes. When Santa's age is disclosed for life insurance, all he gets is a lump of coal.

So we decided to be a little bit bad -- but with good intentions -- and fudge the numbers. (Don't try this at home when you're actually applying for insurance.)

With a beard as white as snow, we figured Santa probably wouldn't pass for under 60, but his lively and quick ability to shimmy down chimneys and the twinkle in his eye should put him on the right side of 70. Our estimate for this exercise: 65.

Weight

A lithe, barbell-toting, tofu-eating Santa in red spandex and running shoes isn't our idea of jolly. Still, all that candy-cane taste-testing at the toy factory, along with those countless plates of milk and cookies on Christmas Eve, aren't doing Santa any favors.

Beloved as his plump figure is, Santa's chubbiness is going to cost him. We ran online life insurance quotes for a 20-year, $250,000 level-premium term life policy for a 5-foot-5, 65-year-old man living in Alaska. (There was no option for the North Pole.) With a healthy weight of 140 pounds, the cheapest rate was $2,573 a year. But anonymous, well-placed elf sources tell us Santa tips the scales at 215; that factor alone boosts the lowest rate to $3,700 a year.

Pipe smoking

It pains us to say this, but when it comes to insurance, Santa's penchant for pipe smoking puts him on the naughty list. Yes, the way the smoke encircles his head like a wreath is charming. And he does indeed look dandy with that stump of pipe held tight in his teeth. But pipe smokers are at greater risk for lung cancer and all sorts of other very unmerry things, including watching the best life insurance rates drift away.

If we say the 215-pound Santa has never smoked, the lowest five life insurance quotes for a 20-year, $250,000 level-premium term life policy range from $3,700 to $4,838. Once we enter the information about his pipe puffing, the lowest five rates range from $3,700 to $9,210.

High blood pressure and high cholesterol

Santa's bowl-full-of-jelly belly has us worried. Doctors say people who carry extra weight around the middle are more at risk for serious health problems, including high blood pressure and high cholesterol, than people who carry extra weight in the hips and thighs. Both types of unhealthy readings put people in high-risk categories for life insurance.

"Belly fat is nothing to joke about," the Mayo Clinic warns ominously on its website. Oh, poor Santa, chuckling away, so blissfully unaware.

Stress is another risk factor for high blood pressure. Sure, Santa seems to take it all in stride, always quick with a "Merry Christmas" and a “ho, ho, ho.” But the pressure of his deadline alone must surely take its toll.

Risky occupation

We can't say for sure how much Santa's job would drive up his life insurance premiums, but we imagine piloting a sleigh in the dark in all kinds of weather is bound to raise some red flags at the life insurance company offices.

If you fly airplanes, some insurers will want to know how many hours you fly each year and the type of aircraft you use before issuing a policy. Santa's annual all-nighter driving a toy-laden sleigh is probably not going to put risk-averse minds at ease. Nor are the eight tiny reindeer, which, according to eyewitness accounts, must be called by name and constantly cajoled to dash away, whether it's to the top of the porch or to the top of the wall.

Of course, there is the shiny red nose guidance system, a safety precaution in foggy weather. But consistent reports of pawing and prancing on snowy and icy rooftops remain troubling.

Thank goodness Santa will never have to fill out a life insurance application or undergo a life insurance medical exam. We wouldn't want to hear the results. 

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