Overpaid? Depends on where you are

One of the things I’ve noticed on occasion is the use by various politicians of the pay scales in one part of the country to demonstrate how “overpaid” various people are.   It’s easy to point to someone in New York City and say “Hey, look at how much money they make!” and whip up the outrage somewhere like South Carolina.  From their standpoint, it is a lot of money.  Of course, that’s not the real story, and it’s one I do have a lot of personal experience with.  While it may seem that people in one area make more, it doesn’t necessarily translate to the same standard of living.

When I left the military, I interviewed for a number of jobs.  I turned down one offer in a suburb of DC, because of the pay.  A job I did take shortly thereafter in upstate NY paid about a thousand dollars a year less than the job I’d turned down.   Was I that desperate or nuts?  Not really.  As I explained to a relative of mine who was shocked that I’d turned down the first job, it was for a straight-up economic reason.  I couldn’t afford to live in the DC area on the salary that was offered.  I could afford to live on the salary in upstate NY.

The pay that in upstate NY enabled me to have a decent place to live, pay my bills, feed myself, and leave some money left over for savings and hobbies,  would have in the DC region  meant being able to pay to live in an efficiency apartment in a not very nice area  and drive to work.  I’d have had to find a second job to afford food and pay my bills.  That’s something that catches people by surprise, if they’re not aware of it.    Even when you are, it can still catch you.  A friend of mine received a transfer from DC to San Francisco.  He called me a few weeks after the transfer, and told me “You know how we thought DC was expensive?  It’s cheap compared to San Francisco!”

I’ve thought back to that over the past few months, as I watch various conservative groups point to public employees or others, particularly union members, as being overpaid.  The cry goes up about how much more they make, and it resonates with people who aren’t aware – or don’t care – about the differences in costs between various areas.  After all, if you’re living in rural Tennessee, $40,000 a year may sound like a good salary.   It isn’t if you’re living in New York City.  It’s actually the equivalent of making less than $20,000.   How do I know that?  I looked.  You see, a while ago I turned down a job offer that would have meant moving there.   It was a really interesting opportunity, and a pay raise of almost $10,000 a year.  The problem?  It was really a pay cut.  A similar apartment to the one I have here would cost me three to four times as much.  I don’t even want to think of what my auto insurance would be.  That’s in addition to the other expenses, and it would mean going from “doing alright” to “scraping by.”

It’s easy to use the “people are overpaid” line if you’re using a figure for a high-cost area.  It works if you’re talking to people in an area where the cost of living isn’t as high.  Unless you look at it in context,  it can sound “high.”  But when you do, it turns out that they’re not “overpaid.”  In fact, they’re often underpaid.

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “Overpaid? Depends on where you are

  1. Being a one time union rep unit elected officer I’m with what you are saying. It was a battle we had in contract negotiations every time our contract was up. People “see” the numbers and forget where those earning it have to live (and I was living 60 miles south of San Francisco in those union days – very expensive area) on those earnings. People forget to look at tax rates, housing and general economic costs.

    Unions are not inherently good or evil – like everything else it comes down to the leadership and goals of the union. Some of what they try to do is wrong, and just as much is right.

    • Oh – and where is the indignation at the government side of those union negotiations? Seems people forget that is is a mutally agreed upon contract!

    • Exactly. I’ve been told that McDonald’s pays its counter people in the range of $12 to $13 an hour in NYC. Most other places, it’s minimum wage or slightly more.

      I’ve lived in DC, so I know how much it costs. So when people tell me “Oh, look, bus drivers there make X dollars” I know what that translates to in “Standard of living” money. On the funny side, I have a sister who now lives down there, and she apologized for yelling at me when I turned down that job offer. She said she now realizes how practical I was being. :lol:

  2. Oh Wow, you nailed it, again! I’ve lived on both coasts and several places in between and people seem to forget to factor in cost of living in comparison to salary and wages. What may seem like huge $$$ to someone in Frost Bite Falls or Redneck City won’t butter many parsnips in DC, NYC, Boston or many places in California or Hawaii for that matter.

    One of my brothers worked for the Gov and he was so excited to get a TDS for 10 months on Oahu at a higher salary until he got there and discovered how expensive living was. He said it was beautiful but he couldn’t afford to enjoy it much.

    Everything is relative.

    • Once you have experience with it, you realize that you need to factor those in. ;-) I didn’t get one of the jobs I interviewed for back then. As it happened, one of my former subordinates worked there as a departmental manager, so I called him up and asked him why. He said “you asked for too much money.” I said “I didn’t think I was being unreasonable,” and he told me that no, I hadn’t been. I’d asked for a living salary. He then went on a long diatribe about the company management, along the lines that his department was routinely short-staffed. That was because they’d hire kids right out of college who thought they were getting a good paying job, only to learn that they couldn’t live on it in that area. So they’d jump ship as soon as possible. So he was either going through a hiring process, or a training process, with a few months of actual “productive work.”

      As he said, “I can’t get it through to them that they’re better off hiring someone like you, paying them a living wage, and having them stick around.” :roll: He left there about three months later. ;-)

  3. That’s one of the reasons why I actually enjoy living in Texas — something my lefty brethren in blue states absolutely cannot understand. “Why don’t you at least move to Austin?” they ask. I don’t want to — rent’s too high. Plus, unless you have a Nobel Prize or some other claim to fame under your belt, UT Austin pays a pittance for the privilege to teach there.

    I don’t get what the PL’s infatuation with Austin is anyway. All major cities in Texas are blue; it’s the suburbs and the small towns where the redneckery takes place. The only difference between Austin and Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, etc. is the fact that Austin is the only city that’s predominantly non-Hispanic white. Hm…

    • Don’t worry, they have the same misconceptions about New York. :roll:

      When I was getting ready to move out to Colorado, the friend I was going to be living with tried to “warn” me. “You have to understand, this area is very rural and clannish. It’s not as cosmopolitan as you’re used to.” My response was to start laughing.

      NYC has over 8 million people, with a land area of about 305 square miles. My county has 4900 people, with a land area of 1700 square miles. The only thing we have in common is that we’re in the same state. ;-)