Every year, Parade Magazine conducts an annual report of what people earn. If you’re ever at a social gathering and the conversation gets boring, just bring up the issue of fair pay and be prepared for the fireworks that follow. If you don’t know where to start just raise the issue of teachers going out on strike for a pay increase, and you may not get invited back for the next party.
I’m not foolish enough to offer an opinion of what teachers should be paid, but I raise the issue as an example of why discussing salaries is such a volatile topic. This issue quickly becomes personal. It gets at the core of what we value in life. Schools take care of our children. You want to start an argument with parents about the responsibility of taking care of their children? Don’t go there.
Then we have people in professions who literally risk their lives, such as firefighters and police officers. Should they be paid more than teachers? On the cover of this year’s Parade 14 careers were represented. Erin Dvitt is a Wildlife Firefighter and earns $18,000. Really? Did you see those wildfires in California? These people were working 16-hour shifts for 14 days straight under extreme physical conditions. What’s a fair wage for that job?
On that same cover we had Kyle Jenner, a reality TV star earning an estimated $41 million, and Jonathan Toews, pro hockey player with estimated earnings of $16 million. You’ve got to smile at this next one: They gave Bruce Springsteen the title of Rocker (not musician) and his earnings are estimated at $75 million.
I’m convinced it is impossible to come up with a wage policy we can all agree on. The fact our government has gotten involved in establishing minimum wage levels and pay equity issues based on gender is actually quite an accomplishment. The whole idea of a free marketplace is the primary reason elected officials avoid the issue of equitable pay. What we get paid is really the perfect model of supply and demand.
What can be discouraging for many people is to learn that the work they enjoy the most may not include an acceptable wage. The marketplace pays for skills that are in short supply. For the past decade the demand for nurses has been ahead of the curve. Hospitals have offered sign-on bonuses and other incentives as part of their recruiting strategy. If your goal is to make a higher salary, then acquire the skills that are in short supply. The job market ignores the principle of what’s fair and is primarily driven by supply and demand.
Notice that I didn’t bring up the topic of enjoying what you do. Are you willing to work in a job you don’t enjoy for a higher salary? Short-term this strategy sounds good, but are you willing to work at something you don’t enjoy for the next 10, 20 or 30 years?
Money is a way of keeping score, but it doesn’t define who we are. Teachers teach because they love children. Bruce Springsteen would be a rocker even if he earned the $18,000 that Erin Davitt makes fighting fires. Find a career path you love and do it. If money is what motivates you, then study the job market and learn how to play the game. Is it fair? I doubt it — but at the end of the day you get to choose the career path that will help you reach your goals. Just keep in mind that what you earn does not define who you are. That’s measured by the quality and quantity of people we love.