What we talk about when we don't talk about our salaries

Back in November, I shared a piece about the "Real Media Salaries Spreadsheet" that was started by one of my colleagues and publicized the incomes of more than a thousand people working in media.

Now the New York Times has published a great new piece about this movement, on the breakdown of the taboos around pay transparency:

Open discussions of pay lay bare some of the basic contradictions that govern so many workplaces, which claim to embrace their workers like family while insisting, all the while, on professionalism and discretion. They are communities whose members care about one another and yet also know that their respective right to belong is based on their utility, perceived or actual. To ask a co-worker her salary — especially one who has worked at an institution for years — opens up deeper, unsettling questions. How valued are you in this community? Are you more valued than I am, or beyond what I perceive as your worth? Or have you undervalued yourself, been timid, clueless, exploited?

The article does a fair job of approaching the issue from different differences, including the social and professional comfort involved with even trying to change the expectations around salary secrecy, and the actual data that reveals what happens when money matters are aired out in the open:

[U]sing data from a happiness survey that has been conducted in Norway since 1985 … Perez-Truglia found that the newfound accessibility of other people’s pay led to a significant increase in the happiness gap: Higher-income earners were happier than they were before the information was widely available, and lower-income workers were less happy.

Read the rest

This chart reveals why the rising GDP hasn't helped the middle class

The Manhattan Institute issued a report that reveals that a year of middle class wages no longer pays for major household expenditures.

From The Washington Post:

Lead author Oren Cass distills it as follows: “In 1985, the typical male worker could cover a family of four’s major expenditures (housing, health care, transportation, education) on 30 weeks of salary,” he wrote on Twitter last week. “By 2018 it took 53 weeks. Which is a problem, there being 52 weeks in a year.”

Image: Washington Post Read the rest

Hundreds of journalists are sharing their salary information in a spreadsheet

I'm in a private Slack with some other media/journalist people, and someone brought up the idea of pay transparency. After all: if you don't know what your colleagues are being paid, it's hard to negotiate for a fair rate. We're all conditioned to believe that our financials should be private, but as far as salaries are concerned, that secrecy only ever tends to work in favor of your employer.

So this particular someone made a Google Form and a corresponding spreadsheet where journalists and other media professionals could anonymously add their salary information. And in barely 24 hours, it's spread to CJR and Bloomberg and even inspired Mike Cernovich to go off on some completely unsubstantiated rant to set off his army of loyal trolls because apparently all journalists are scum and also trustfund babies even though there isn't any proof of that (and I can personally assure you that my personal information is on that list and that my public school teacher mom and print salesman dad are not rolling in the dough).

As of this writing, more than 200 people have responded. On one hand, it is admittedly difficult to verify the claims contained within the data. On the other hand, there's still lots of eye-opening information to glean. Unsurprisingly, there are pay disparities across race and gender; but the same thing happens across geographic location, and work experience. Perhaps the most shocking revelation so far is just the absurd range of income of people working in news media. Read the rest

Silicon Valley families making $117,000 are considered low income

With single-family home in the Bay Area averaging $935,000, families there making $117,000 are considered low income. The run-up on house prices is blamed on tech workers who can pay top dollar for houses. From CBS News:

That norm is fueled by thousands of well-paid tech workers who have driven up the median price of a San Francisco house to $1.6 million dollars, the highest in the country. While housing prices are rising faster than incomes nationwide, nowhere is it more evident than in the Bay Area, where home values have soared a staggering 64 percent over the last five years.

Image: CBS News Read the rest

It's a Line-Cutting World After All

Walt Disney World is apparently planning to allow guests who stay at their most expensive resorts with "club level" service to buy cut-the-line ride Fastpasses for $50/day, according to WFTV's Chip Skambis.

This privilege would be only for those who stay three nights in club-level rooms, which seem to go for about $800/night and up (way up).

Disney has long tried to seem egalitarian in the way it treats ride lines. The Universal Orlando theme parks down the road have no such compunctions -- they allow anyone willing and able to pay $170 - $190 per day to cut past every poor slob who could only afford the $110/day admission price.

But Disney has avoided this overt wealth-pandering, basically having everyone play by the same line-waiting rules. Sure, Disney has had its “VIP tour service,” in which, for $425-$600 per hour (that’s not a typo: per HOUR) you can hire your very own line-cutting top-flight Disney “cast member,” but that's clearly for the super-rich, and who wouldn't cater to that group? Not even the most militant Marxist would want to see Mark Zuckerberg and family among the crowd waiting in line for Peter Pan’s Flight.

But I just came from Disney World, and I could see the writing on the wall.

First of all, the nature of these Fastpasses has changed. When they got their start, they were a way for people to show up at a ride, and then, instead of waiting on the line, get a slip of paper to show up at a later time and get right onto the ride -- essentially allowing them to do other things during the time they would have otherwise been waiting on the line. Read the rest

The richest person in every state, by industry

You might think every American state is overrun with tech billionaires, given the amount of press they get, but Forbes shows that the richest person in each state is more likely to have made their fortune in fashion, retail, finance, or investing: Read the rest

Extreme wealth inequality will always devour the societies that produce it

My new novel Walkaway (US tour/UK tour) is set in a world that is being torn apart by out-of-control wealth inequality, but not everyone thinks that inequality is what destabilizes the world -- there's a kind of free-market belief that says the problem is really poverty, not inequality, and that the same forces that make the rich richer also lift poor people out of misery, delivering the sanitation, mass food production, communications tools and other innovations that rescues poor people from privation. Read the rest