Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Wages, Then and Now

Minnesota's minimum wage is currently $6.15 an hour, while the federal minimum is $7.25.

Our legislature is in pretty serious discussion, finally, about raising the state wage to $9.50, which would make it one of the highest in the country.

It got me thinking back to what I made when I was just out of college and what it would equal in today's dollars.

My first job, post-degree (1981), was at the then-minimum of $3.35 (1982). This would be $8.33 in today's dollars, $2+ more than Minnesota's minimum wage and $1+ more than the federal wage. That was a half-time job, but I soon took another at the same rate that was also half-time. Both were actually full-time in terms of work requirements, though, so essentially I worked 80 hours a week for $1.57 an hour ($4.17 today).

That was a burnout pace, even for a 22-year-old, and I left after a year to work at a moderately large nonprofit group in Washington, D.C. (1982).

The group had just recently increased its entry-level salaries (and they were salaried, not hourly, positions) from $6,000 a year to $8,000 a year. At 40 hours a week, that was an increase from $2.88 an hour to $3.85 an hour. In today's dollars, those amounts become $6.74 an hour (still higher than Minnesota's minimum) rising to $9.02 an hour, or $14,051 a year rising to $18,735 a year.

(Those rates are based on the imaginary idea that you only worked 40 hours a week… such a limit was discouraged, with an unspoken rule that you should work at least 60.)

It was a bit hard to live on that amount in Washington, even for a single person sharing a house with six unrelated adults and riding the bus for transportation. (My rent was $150 a month, the equivalent of $350 today.) I remember one of my coworkers looked into food stamps under the old salary, but was told he made too much money. I didn't have tremendous difficulty, though, being just one person with no dependents and no cell phone or cable/internet bill to pay.

I lasted there six months before being hired away for my mad skills by another nonprofit (early 1983). That salary was $12,000 a year ($5.77 an hour for 40 hours), with hours that I had more control over. That wage in today's dollars would be $13.09 an hour, or $27,231 a year. I felt like I was finally in the money, I remember.

When I left the job to return to graduate school in 1986, we had to pay my replacement $15,000 a year ($7.21 an hour, or $14.86 an hour, $30,914 a year in today's dollars).


All inflation adjusted amounts are for 2012 and were generated using the westegg.com inflation calculator. So I guess it's not quite accurate to say "today's dollars," but it's close.

Here are my previous ruminations on what things like college cost back in the good-old early 1980s.

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