Hey guys, you ever notice that the Lord of the Milfs guy made $50k? That’s $22k in 1985 dollars, when your parents were coming up. Was it hard to make that kind of money back then? Let’s ask the NYT:
Mark Hilderbrand, who just finished his sophomore year at Boston University, is pleased with his new summer job fixing air-conditioners… The pay is $8.20 an hour.
That wage annualized to $16,400 in 1985 and to about $36,700 in 2016, adjusting for inflation, or the equivalent of $18.35/hr today for full-time work. But perhaps that was an outlier. Let’s see what unionized labor was getting:
Wages were cut in Austin from $10.69 to $8.25 per huor [sic] on October 8, 1984.
$10.69 in 1985 annualizes to about $47,900 in 2016. Pay cuts, however, reduced the wage to right around $37,000 a year, what our college sophomore was getting. And today?
Today, the 90th percentile wage in that industry is less than the annualized post-pay cut average wage in 1985. To give you a sense of 90th percentile vs. 50th percentile in the economy generally, the 90th/50th for household income today is $160,000/$55,000; a meatpacker earning $36,000 today is as rare, relative to his industry, as a family earning $160,000 is to the country as a whole. Pre-pay cut boomer slaughterhouse dad was making 87% of today’s average household income all by himself, so if his wife was a part-time school secretary or something, they were ahead.
All this is to say that the Lord of the Milfs is doing about as well as the average meatpacker was in 1984—sure, his college, housing and healthcare expenses are a lot worse, but on the other hand, he probably has an iPhone and he makes a few percent more. On the other hand, the average meatpacker today is making less than twice minimum wage and less than a random-ass college student made in 1985. No wonder boomers could pay for college with their summer jobs. Those summer jobs paid great. Meanwhile, the guy who ratfaced his way into a slick corporate IT job—good job, by the way, buddy, you’re an inspiration!—finds himself freaking out over a kid. Why? Because he’s working class, even if he does wear a sweet Van Heusen cotton-poly number that he bought on sale at Sears instead of denim coveralls. He probably makes quite a bit less than his dad.
What caused all this? Well, one explanation is that American labor just isn’t efficient enough to justify higher wages. After all, you can’t get paid what you didn’t produce, unless you’re a rat-faced man. But that explanation is crap. (See p. 4, e.g.) American workers are highly productive and have consistently gained relative to other first-world nations. I’m not saying it was highly exploitable scab labor from the third world, but…
However, I’m not here to point fingers. The question isn’t how did we come to live in a deindustrialized, juggalo-haunted hellscape, the question is how can you afford to move away from it. And the answer, as always, is to capture your value.
I was just talking to a rat-faced girl with a very slick job and she told me in confidence (sorry babe) that one of her friends had picked up a new job as a health-care finance consultant making $250,000. (This was or would be a pay cut for me and both of them.) You see, her friend wanted to chillax a little without stepping totally off the career track. But at her new job, she was making enemies because—get this—she knew, thanks to her old job as an investment banker, how to do financial modeling stuff. Not fancy Excel tricks, just like ten bullet points summarizing financial data from reports, not even any analysis really. And this was infuriating to the fat, insecure, 2.5-hour lunch-taking TTTs she worked with. It made that squad of ex-hospital administrators and failed lobbyists look bad. Stuff that you’d expect to be taught in 10th grade “Computer Literacy for Daily Living” at some free-lunch high school, and these exec-level people couldn’t do it. Or they’d spend all day manually dumping data into tables and doing it worse than a data entry clerk making $10/hr would have. One ex-banker looking to chill was blowing the doors off of them without even trying.
Hard as it may be to believe, there are lots of dullards out there stacking cash. They have what I think of as “boomer jobs.” In boomer jobs, you’re basically paid for existing and because you haven’t given anyone an affirmative reason to fire you. The problem is getting one.
Well, you’ll note that friend-of-a-rat-faced-friend got one. How? By having great credentials and a sense of her own worth. Realistically, you need much better credentials than a boomer to get on this track, and you almost certainly need to be a lateral hire instead of starting at the bottom. (Outside of a few industries, boomers have eliminated mailroom promotion in favor of lateral hiring, which is why the headhunter industry can ask $30,000+ for one professional hire and get it.) You’ll also notice that skill is almost irrelevant. Our banker FOAF got the job solely on credentials; when they hired her, they had no idea what she could actually do (and maybe if they had, one of the fat TTTs would have tried to block the hire.)
So my rule of thumb is to look at the qualifications that a boomer had and take them up two notches. They have a directional state degree? You need state flagship with honors. They got hired from the mailroom? You need 3 years of consulting experience. (To be fair, low-level consulting jobs are pretty easy to get now.) But keep your eye and your twitching, bewhiskered nose on the prize. The goal of exiting to a boomer job is highly achievable to a temporarily embarrassed white-collar worker. But not a boomer job in labor. Those are gone, baby. Gone.