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Wednesday, July 27, 2011


I was looking over a list of potential jobs yesterday and I saw one annual salary repeated over and over again: $15,600. $15,600, repeated over and over again, for jobs ranging from the most menial to a quality control inspector.

$15,600? What decade is this? I remember seeing a book advertised in a book club back in the late 1970's - back when book clubs used to run big two-page ads in the Sunday supplements every week, promising five books for a penny with a commitment to buy several more books over the next year - called How to Live on $10,000 a Year. Back then that seemed like an awful lot of money. In a place like Nanticoke, it certainly was. I suppose in a major metropolitan area $10,000 a year wouldn't get you very far.

But that was nearly forty years ago. Who can possibly get by on $15,600 a year in 2011?

I divided that value by 52, and then by 40, and worked out that $15,600 would be the annual gross wages of an individual earning $7.50 an hour.

Not minimum wage, it turns out. Minimum wage1 is $7.25 an hour, as reflected by several positions listed with an annual salary of $15,080.

Who can survive on that? I can't, though I'm currently taking my best shot at it. Can you?

And what happens to the economy if everybody is trying to squeeze by on $15,600, or even $15,080? I'll give you a hint: it collapses. Nobody will be able to afford the luxury goods you make, the luxury services you provide. People will learn to get by without newspapers and DVDs; people will pour boiling water on the termites they find eating their house rather than call an exterminator; people will skip visits to the doctor, and get all their medical attention from the emergency room. And the tax base will go away: income taxes will shrivel to nothing as incomes shrivel to nothing, and sales taxes will dry up as people stop buying things.

Of course, an annual gross income of $15,600 isn't an annual gross income of $15,600. There are local, state, and federal taxes, social security taxes, health insurance2 (if you're lucky enough to be on a plan through your employer, you'll probably be paying most or all of your own premiums), then an array of sundry expenses. Do you drive to work? Then you'll be paying a commuter tax in the form of gas to fuel your car, the cost of having a job.

In my last position I was making a good deal more than $7.50. Thanks to the magic of overtime, I was able to jack this up even higher, at the price of my time, my health, and days of my life that could have been spent otherwise. Before that I was making considerably more - over 50% more in my salaried position than I was making in my hourly position on the factory floor.

I'm looking for a job like that. I have a degree in Physics and over nineteen years of experience in industry. I own a house and have family in this region. I will relocate if I absolutely must, but I will not flee this region on a whim. I'm not looking for a part-time job. I'm seeking full-time employment.

And I look at the job listings and see a bunch of jobs for $15,600. And a few for $15,080.

Welcome to the future.

1. Minimum wage, of course, isn't the minimum wage. Lots of positions are exempt from minimum wage requirements. Servers in restaurants, for example, get paid an even lower hourly wage - much of their income is derived from tips. Can you live on what they live on? If that were your sole source of income, perhaps, for you and your kids?

2. This is assuming that the job for $15,600 is a full-time position with benefits. There are many ways to structure such a job so that it skirts the edge of being full-time without crossing that threshold, thereby avoiding the employer requirements involved with full-time employment. 


Marisa said...

I remember thinking $12,000 for a college grad (which was pretty standard for journalism grads, entry-level librarians, teachers, etc.) was pretty sorry pay in the late '80's. Life has changed a lot, and some of those changes aren't good! Starting teachers do make more than that now, but I make about half what I used to before being laid off 2 years ago. Now I'm looking for a second job...

Anonymous said...

As a supervisor, I must say I agree with you 100%. Try to find a quality employee who will take this menial wage. It is truly a slap in the face. I am held to standards that dictate quality yet have resources that are so baseline that every effort I have made to justify or comprehend this mentality have come up fruitless.
My industry is long term care of the elderly which I suppose is the first strike. The elderly, children and animals in this country are no more than property and are seen as an after thought. Those who work with and are charged with their care are compensated based on the value given them by society. So very sad but a reality.
The second strike is that I am so driven by personal and professional pride that I expect everyone to share the same standards. It is beyond me why everyone doesn't wish to perform at peak performance. I can find employees that say they want to work but the job entails more than simply showing up and punching the clock. Somehow that's all the $7.50 per hours least for the majority of employees that I have had accept that pay. When this is explained to management they swear to me that it's my fault, I am hiring the wrong people.
My third strike is the organization for which I work that wants something for nothing. The community seems to think that the company is the best in the business and indeed they do provide excellent care. That care and quality is at the expense of their employees though. The company wants stellar performance for minimum wage. We're seeking any "suckers" out there that want to work their tails off for nothing. I'm not trying to offend anyone because I obviously have "sucker" stamped largely across my forehead. Oh and for those who might say I'm whining, not whining at all. Just stating facts and I'm personally on the way out of this "leech" of a company. My goal is to work for a company that appreciates their staff and compensates based on performance.