President Barack Obama is officially out of a job. At the age of 55, he’s one of the youngest ex-presidents ever, and he surely has many career opportunities ahead of him, including plenty of options to cash in on an epic scale—if he chooses. So what’s next for Obama?
We know that the Obamas are jetting away to Palm Springs right after the Trump inauguration for a vacation. And that they are renting an 8,200-square-foot house in Washington, D.C.,so that their daughter Sasha can finish high school in the capital. Other than that, however, where President Obama goes and what he does are largely mysteries.
“He will enter a period of what he says will be silence and reflection with family,” the Los Angeles Times reported regarding Obama’s trip to Palm Springs and beyond. “I want to be quiet a little bit and not hear myself talk so darn much,” Obama told reporters. “I want to spend precious time with my girls.”
As for how much money Obama will earn in his years as an ex-president, here are some of his possible sources of future income.
All ex-presidents get pensions, to the tune of $205,700 annually, and the amount increases regularly to keep up with inflation. Obama, along with ex-presidents Carter, both Bushes, and Clinton, will also receive federal money to cover expenses such as office space and staff. In 2015, for example, George W. Bush was allocated $1.1 million, while Jimmy Carter received a total of $430,000—the highest and lowest amounts, respectively, of all the living ex-presidents.
In his final press conference as president, Obama revealed one plan for 2017: “I want to do some writing,” he said.
If that writing entails work on a memoir, President Obama will make a bundle. According to publishers and literary agents consulted by the New York Times, a book contract would be worth somewhere between $12 and $30 million for Obama. (A Michele Obama memoir could be worth $10 to $15 million, meanwhile.)
That’s only the original contract, mind you. If the book sells well like Obama’s previous two have, he could earn millions more in royalties for years to come. In 2009 alone, Obama reported $5.1 million in income just from the sales of his two books, The Audacity of Hope and Dreams from My Father. Obama is still receiving royalties from his books, though the amounts have decreased over time—just $56,000 during the 2015 tax year.
President Obama is renowned for giving great speeches, and he’ll be in high demand as a guest speaker. It’s hard to nail down how much he’ll earn via paid speeches, however, for a variety of reasons.
One is that he may not be interested in paid speaking engagements, especially not ones at business conferences, corporate retreats, and the like, which tend to be the most lucrative. Bill and Hillary Clinton have reportedly been paid $200,000 and up per speech over the years, with Bill receiving over $500,000 for some guest-speaker engagements. CNN estimated that the Clintons earned over $153 million in speech fees from 2001 through 2015, including talks at business forums in China and corporate events hosted by the likes of Goldman Sachs and Swedish telecom giant Ericsson.
Wall Street has a reputation for hating Obama for policies that have been deemed anti-business, however, so the world’s corporate overlords may not be clamoring to host him. Regardless, it’s a safe bet that if Obama wants to give paid speeches, he could pocket somewhere in the neighborhood of the $100,000 per engagement commanded by Al Gore or George W. Bush.
Obama was a lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School from 1992 to 2004, and it’s long been speculated that he could return to teaching. The thinking goes that even if he doesn’t return to his previous gig, Obama might be tempted to teach at Columbia (where he was an undergrad) or Harvard (where he went to law school and became the first black president of the Harvard Law Review).
Does Obama actually want to be a professor? “I love teaching. I miss the classroom and engaging with students,” he said in a 2014 interview.
But Obama certainly hasn’t indicated teaching at college or any other level is his top post-presidency career choice. For what it’s worth, the average Harvard professor earns around $200,000 a year.
NBA Team Owner
Barack Obama’s passion for sports—basketball in particular—is legendary. He’s undoubtedly the best basketball-playing president ever, and as the recently-published oral history of Obama’s pickup games shows, he’s a fierce competitor and notorious trash-talker as well.
All of that competitive fire could translate well into Obama owning a sports franchise. And yes, he’s interested. Last summer, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said that Obama had “discussed” being part of an NBA ownership group, and is game for taking over a team “under the right set of circumstances.” (Obama is a huge Chicago Bulls fan, so we’re guessing he’d be easily swayed into owning that team.)
It’s not the first time this possibility has come up either. “I have fantasized about being able to put together a team and how much fun that would be,” Obama said in a 2015 GQ interview. “I think it’d be terrific.”
As for how much money Obama could make as an NBA team owner, it’s impossible to come up with an estimate. Most pro team owners are filthy rich business giants who get into sports mostly for fun, not to amass more wealth. Teams don’t always make money either: The Charlotte Bobcats, owned partly by NBA all-timer Michael Jordan, lost $13 million in a recent season. Nonetheless, NBA team valuations regularly increase 20% or more annually, so owners generally profit handsomely when the time comes to sell.
Who knows if Obama will ever own part of a pro sports franchise, let alone what his ownership stake would be, plus how much the owners paid and how much it will be worth if and when they sell it. We’d need to pinpoint all of these variables to estimate how much he could earn as an NBA team owner.
Over the years, Obama has consistently said that down the road he would somehow return to his roots as a community activist—more specifically, by helping children and providing opportunities to young people. “You know, in a post-presidency, the thing that I think I would enjoy most is spending time working with kids,” Obama said on “The View” in 2012. “The idea of being able to go around in various cities and helping to create mentorships, and apprenticeships, giving young people the sense of possibility and opportunity, and using whatever spotlight I can shine to show how much incredible talent there is out there.”
Obama has pledged to remain active after his presidency with My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, a nonprofit focused on helping young men of color reach their potential. He’ll obviously be involved with his own nonprofit Obama Foundation, which is developing the Obama Presidential Center and community programs in the South Side of Chicago.
Obama will probably earn little to nothing with his nonprofit efforts. But making money is hardly the point. Besides, if Obama figures out how to pull in a few million regularly giving speeches or writing books, it’ll be easy for him to pursue other passions without worrying about money.