Thirteen years ago, I was a contractor for a large company in Hillsboro, Oregon. I had a cool job overseeing the architecture, and developing the content for a consumer-facing website. I also wrote a monthly newsletter and customer stories.
When it came time to renew my contract, I was told I was overpaid, and my contract would be renewed at a lower rate. It was a moot point because a week after my contract ended, I moved to Texas.
I always wondered what I’d done the 12 months prior to reduce my worth. Certainly, I knew a heck of a lot more than when I first walked in the door, and struggled to write two coherent sentence about the company’s products, let alone understand the ins-and-outs of their editorial and design standards.
Ten years later, I was hired for another contract role. This time with a Washington company. Along with overseeing their website (ranging from creating the content and architecture to managing the web developers), I was responsible for writing and overseeing their customer-facing blog, social media, creating sales materials, and collaborating with their public relations firm. And when they launched products, I was expected to be awake at 5 a.m. to ensure the updated web content, blog and social media posts went live within minutes of each other.
For this honor, I was paid $1.75 less per hour then I’d earned a decade earlier.
Flat wages? Higher expectations? Longer hours? Affirmative.
Nevertheless, I’m not complaining. Today, I earn $3 more per hour than thirteen years ago, and I have great benefits, work for a top agency, and do highly creative, fulfilling work. I feel lucky given the challenge of finding gainful employment in a marketplace where subjective factors carry a higher value than experience and accomplishments.
What’s got me “hot under the collar” is an email I received this morning. A local temporary agency was seeking people to ask survey questions over the phone in both Spanish and English. They pay $10.10 per hour, and expect candidates to work Monday through Friday 2 pm to 9 pm, and either Saturday or Sunday from 10 am to 6 pm for a total of 43 hours per week. The extra 3 hours per week equates to working nearly an extra month of work per year.
The pay for working 6 days a week is $434.30, less than $1,740 per month. The company graciously offers major medical, based on your gender and age. As an example, if you’re a 30 year old female, you pay $105.53 per month ($6.10 more than a 30 year old male) with a $2,500 deductible. Over the course of a year, you would be paying nearly 6% of your salary in medical premiums, along with the cost of your doctor visits, tests, prescriptions, and medical procedures up to $2,500.
After paying your monthly medical premium, you’d be left with $1,635.67 for housing, utilities, transportation, food, clothing, additional insurance (such as life and dental), and other expenses. You’d probably be stretched thin if you also had to support a family and pay child care.
Also in my email was a news feed with a link to an article in the Washington Post about the amount of money one would need to earn per hour, working a 40-hour week, 52-weeks per year, to afford a decent one-bedroom apartment.
The interactive map by US counties shows you need to earn $17.56 per hour or around $36,525 per year to afford a decent one-bedroom apartment in King County. That’s $13,942 more than the $10.10 job listed above
If you go south to Pierce County, you need $14.75 per hour. Better, but you’d still be short $8,096 a year for a “decent one-bedroom apartment.”
People in Washington are better off than other parts of the nation, where the minimum wage is $7.25 per hour or around $15,080 if you worked 40 hours a week, 52-weeks a year. The minimum wage in Washington is $9.32 or $19,385 per year. The job advertised above, with earning 78₵ more per hour, and working 3 hours more week, nets an additional $1,623.
The inequities in pay across the United States are now getting front page coverage. The chart above from the U.S. Census Bureau clearly shows the unmistakable decline in income for the bottom 60% earnings flat for the next income bracket (pale blue).
It’s discouraging when job security is unpredictable, and the prospect of finding a good job diminishes with age.