1 How Do You Answer, How Much Do You Make? | The Billfold

How Do You Answer, How Much Do You Make?

Here’s how four respondents to Marketplace’s survey on the subject answered the Q:

“While I don’t bring it up voluntarily, my salary is a matter of public record. I can’t hide it from friends and family if they want to look it up.” —Cristobal Palmer

“It’s not enough to hide, believe me.” —Jeff Bray

“I do not think it is polite to discuss income. I do not want them to pity me for how little I make.” —Becky Greene,

“I think if I made more than my friends and family, I’d probably be less likely to talk about it.” —Halle E.

I can’t think of the last time I was asked this question, actually—I’m usually doing the asking—but in person I just answer the question, because: WHY NOT. On the INTERNET, where THINGS LIVE FOREVER AND EMPLOYERS SEE ALL, I say something diplomatic about whatever my current gig is (“WOULD THAT I COULD SAY, BUT I SIGNED A THING SAYING I WOULDN’T) but will disclose past salaries on a case-by-case basis based upon the likelihood of being sued for such (which I’ve decided is mostly zilch).


64 Comments / Post A Comment

ThatJenn (#916)

I work for the state, so anyone can look up my salary anytime. It’s kind of weird to be able to know what everyone around you is making (hint: it’s not equitable). At my previous two jobs we were told that “the WORST thing you could ever do is discuss pay,” so I know it wasn’t equitable there either. The place before that? Everyone made the same shitty publicly-advertised wage anyway (the people up at the very top made almost $14.50/hour… I was nowhere near the top).

MuffyStJohn (#280)

@ThatJenn Yeah my last job there was a link on the local paper’s homepage that you could use to pull up anyone’s salary. Fuck yeah city employment. It was a sad moment when I realized that, as an admin with a BA, I was out-earning program directors with MPHs whose positions were grant funded.

MuffyStJohn (#280)

I’m going to use this accidental double post to say my salary there was $39,800 and I had bitchin’ health insurance.

@ThatJenn Same here. We keep a giant binder behind the circulation desk with the salaries of everyone at the university I work for. Sometimes I look up the salaries for people who have their MLIS degrees just to stare at them covetously.

acid burn (#113)

@ThatJenn I used to be an employee at a state college, and the day my coworker and I discovered the public salary website (listed not by position, but by NAME OF EMPLOYEE) was maybe the lowest my work morale has ever been. My salary was okay ($30k ish if I recall correctly), and my health insurance was AMAZING ($13 a month!) but there were admin staff making literally twice what I made, and there were facilities staff who’d been at the college for 20 years who were still making significantly less than me. Bummertown.

ThatJenn (#916)

@acid burn Yep, I’m at a public university and it’s the same deal here. So I know exactly how much I make relative to everyone sitting around me. For me it’s often higher and while that obviously doesn’t have the effect of dinging my morale, it does feel really weird.

It also brings into focus why the guy who wanted my job but didn’t get it because of not having appropriate people/anger management skills wanted it, and why he told me he’d learn managerial-level tact when they pay him enough to have it. (Also: why did my boss tell me “this guy you need to ask a favor of wanted your job because he thought the person in your position relied too heavily on him – but I didn’t give it to him because of his lack of people/anger management skills”? why?)

Megano! (#124)

I have never had a salary wooo!

EmmaG (#1,023)

Fact: Discussions of academic funding ruin friendships, especially when you’re put on the spot about it, answer honestly, and then are accused of not deserving it.

I am fortunate enough to not have had this happen to me (yet…), but horror stories abound. It’s an incredibly touchy subject.

MuffyStJohn (#280)

$40k a year. Done.

Teaching us it’s impolite to talk about what we earn is one of the most powerful ways the man has kept us down.

@MuffyStJohn Agreed! 40k. I can also say with confidence what the CEO of my non-profit makes, because it’s public knowledge for non-profits, and it’s incredibly depressing to know that he makes 20 times what I do.

@Jake Reinhardt Also, if there were a website where people could completely anonymously post their salaries, titles, and companies specifically, that website would do very well.

Mike Dang (#2)

@Jake Reinhardt Glassdoor!

MuffyStJohn (#280)

@Mike Dang Beat me to it! I was going to say Glassdoor. I am amazed at how many people do not know about this amazing resource.

Sometimes though it’s hard to be anonymous there. Like, if you work for a super small org (like I do) and only two people have ever help your position (ditto), and you post your salary there . . . it’s not really anonymous. I will absolutely post mine when I leave here though, for the benefit of those applying for my position after me.

@Mike Dang wow, glass door has IMPROVED since the last time I looked at it like 3 years ago! Damn. Good job website.

Also a member of the $40k club. I work at a nonprofit too and people, especially fresh-out-of-college Millennials, whine constantly about the unequal pay but, really, A) It’s far better than the private sector (where it’s not uncommon for a CEO to earn FIVE HUNDRED times the average employee’s salary) and B) Isn’t it nice to see the that people with 5, 10, or 15 years more experience than you are making a lot more than what you’re making right out of college? Or should everyone just make $38k until they retire?

Also I think we pay our admin/support staff pretty well compared to most private sector organizations, and our benefits are nothing to scoff at.

MuffyStJohn (#280)

@stuffisthings For me the $40k number is tough because I’ve earned it in 3 different positions at 3 organizations in 2 cities over the course of 6 years – despite a steadily increasing level of responsibility and the acquisition of a degree. So while it is nice to see that people with more experience are making more than I do now, it’s also hard sometimes to see that I WON’T be earning $40k until I retire. Getting pay bumps is not as easy as it used to be, and the systems in place to help our 50 year-old friends earn more as they aged are getting cut out from underneath the young folks.

@MuffyStJohn Yeah I think for most of the folks we have who are earning significantly more than others in the same position, it’s either because they manage a LOT of big and complex projects, or because they came from somewhere else (gov’t or big IFIs) where they were paid much better. But for what it’s worth I intend to ask for a large salary bump whenever I make my next move.

But yeah you’re right as those pay advancement systems erode it may become harder and harder to move up that ladder.

MuffyStJohn (#280)

@stuffisthings It used to be that you could get a big pay bump moving from one organization to another. In reality, I have had to play hardball negotiations just to maintain the level of pay I was earning as a low-level admin with no degree. Now I’m starting my master’s degree and taking out this huge amount of debt and it sometimes feels pointless, because I assume I will still be earning roughly the same amount when I’m done. I intend to fight tooth and nail for a massive salary bump when I leave here, but whether or not I get it is another story.

ThatJenn (#916)

$52,500, which is a good $20k higher than any of my previous jobs (and which almost made me pass out when I got the offer letter for that reason). I work at a state university in the department where professors’ grants’ indirect costs go. I help the professors find the grants in the first place, with grantwriting/project management/assembling lists of funding opportunities and targeting them to people, plus a variety of other random duties. I think I get paid about what my services are worth (I am 100% certain I am responsible for bringing in a LOT more than that to the university, so while I am paid well I do not think I am overpaid). My job requires a MS in a science- or medical-related field.

I should mention I live in a place where this salary goes a long, long way (not a major city). I was comfortable on $20k less. Now I’m just aggressively paying down debt. Interestingly, I’m much more frugal than I ever was when I made less, I think because it feels like a responsibility challenge instead of like a hardship.

MuffyStJohn (#280)

@ThatJenn YOU GIVE ME HOPE. Although $52k would juuust put me at a comfortable level for paying off my student loans.

deepomega (#22)

@MuffyStJohn Completely correct. Talking about money is how you balance the information gap – companies know what they’ve paid people to do a job in the past, you only know what you’ve been paid. (If that, even.)

@MuffyStJohn $38K, so almost in the $40K club. Also nonprofit. My salaries have always been in the 30s throughout my 8 years of post-college work experience, and I’ve gotten so accustomed to making ends meet with this salary at this point (in NYC, I find it important to note – a massive wad of my salary goes toward rent) that $50K begins to sound like an embarrassment of riches.

AlliNYC (#1,725)

@MuffyStJohn $35k, but I work in the financial industry (as a conference planner/admin) so HOLIDAY BONUS WOO! Supposedly it’ll push me over the $40k threshold which would be lovely.

Of course, I am 26, pointedly ignoring my student debt and small credit card balance (I KNOW) because I live in NYC and am terrified that if I do pay them off and something bad happens (illness/job loss/etc) I will not have any money and will have to crawl back to North Carolina. Which will never ever happen. So. Lotta good that $35k has gotten me so far.

RachelG8489 (#1,297)

$33,150. Admin assistant at a graduate-only university in NYC.

Quinn A@twitter (#1,008)

I tell the truth. I’m not embarrassed by it, and honestly, I think most people could take a pretty good guess at it from my lifestyle and my education level.

Aunt_Pete (#693)

I’ll give people my base salary but I omit info on bonuses because I find it leads to resentment and some frankly hostile commments. How would anyone who doesn’t work with me know what is “deserved” or not?

r&rkd (#1,657)

Also remember: it is illegal under the National Labor Relations Act for a private employer to have a rule that employees cannot talk with each other about pay!

@josiahg However, you can be reprimanded and have no recourse. This happened to me; my company is a fire-at-will company, and I would probably have had no way to prove that it was because I spoke about pay. It’s incredibly disheartening, too-because if you say “it is illegal for you to tell me this”, which is what I WANTED to say, you are labeled a problem employee and will not advance.

r&rkd (#1,657)

@Jake Reinhardt
It’s true that NLRA remedies are weak and that it’s sometimes hard to prove that the discipline was motivated by an illegal purpose.

ThatJenn (#916)

@Jake Reinhardt Yes, this. My company that forbade talking about pay also asked me if I had kids in my interview and discouraged breaks. I could have brought up the illegality of it, but I really, really needed the job and work in an at-will state.

Tuna Surprise (#118)

My salary is available online. I once had a client figure this out and he called me up and was so weirded out by it. He couldn’t believe that anyone could just google it and figure out what we all made.

In the pre-google world, I remember the excitement of going to the University library (where I was a student and my dad worked) to ask for the book of University salaries.

@Tuna Surprise We recently had a group of protestors gather right outside the library where I work to call for, among other things, transparency about people’s salaries. I was busy with other stuff while they were here, but I wonder if anyone ever let them know that we have a book like that, AND you can look them up on the university’s website.

honey cowl (#1,510)

Um, maybe because we’re embarrassed by how little we make? I hate disclosing my salary because I feel like I am worth so much more. When I tell friends I feel like they pity or judge me. Yet another reason I’m frantically looking for a new job.

honey cowl (#1,510)

@Lauren Ugh! How are all of you earning $40k at a nonprofit??? I work at a nonprofit and I am not even close to that and barely scraping by. Please tell me all of your secrets.

@Lauren My secret was moving to a larger city, with a better market, and working for a larger non-profit that is run much like a for-profit. Sorry not so helpful! If I had stayed in my previous market (Cincinnati shout out!), I would be in for like 25-30 and that is IF I could find that sweet job. Keep in mind, though, that I make 40k in Chicago, which is like 30 in a less expensive city. Although, honestly, the only things I pay more for are gas and rent.

MuffyStJohn (#280)

@Lauren My secret was negotiating a higher salary.

wearitcounts (#772)

$37,747. higher ed admin for BU.

mouthalmighty (#165)

I’m pretty open about how much I make, which is maybe easier because it’s a wage? I dunno, it’s just that part of me wants all wage earners to put that shit out there, so we can discuss the crazy discrepancy between what the minimum wage is technically and what wage workers are actually making/need to make to survive. Like, for instance, minimum wage in the city I work in is ~$10.20/hr… but I make $16/hr – and even with that, cannot afford to live in the city I work in. There’s something off about that!

probs (#296)

Close friends I tell the truth: 45k, two years into being a consultant in Washington, DC. My girlfriend and several of my friends and I all work at the same company, though not together. It’s helpful that we know how much we make from a strategic perspective, but has lead to some tension due to one of my friends making substantially more than the rest of us. (Doesn’t bother me particularly)

Other than very close friends, I say something like “I’m quite comfortable. DC is kind of expensive, but I really can’t complain. I’m happy to have a job and to be making a living for myself.” Which is true.

peanutbutterpie (#1,450)

45k as an assistant editor at a non profit in washington d.c.!

probs (#296)

@peanutbutterpie 45k DC club!

Robin (#1,320)

@peanutbutterpie Me too! Can we get matching t-shirts? I’m not in DC, though :( (I mean.. :)!)

thecoffeestain (#1,483)

43k as a receptionist for an investment banking firm.

TARDIStime (#1,633)

About $34.5K reception at an international media company in Sydney.
I’d love to know – which major city are you in and how much experience do you have? Do you work long hours (more than the 8-5?) and are you expected to dress in expensive clothing/invest lots of your money into corporate presentation?
I”m just curious because I’ve been in the same position for 2 years and started on $28K, largely because I was 19 years old at the time, and I’m making so much more now I’m over 21, for doing exactly the same thing. I always wondered what the discrepancies were in reception positions that make the salaries vary so much. I see 50K positions advertised in the CBD all the time and when I apply they say it’s because they want an experienced person and I’m not experienced enough to get to interview (not having a whinge, just wondering how you got where you are for comparison).
/end waffle

OllyOlly (#669)

Just finished my first year out of undergrad and made about 49k(my company also fully pays health insurance, which adds up)but my base pay is 42.5k, so that is what I live on month to month (get paid once a month). I work near DC and have an entry level finance job. I know the coworker brought in the same time as me makes the exact same(which is nice). I also know that the new hire who just started was brought in at a higher rate than my current salary. I still haven’t decided if I am glad I know that someone I am training makes more than me or if it would have been better not to know.

lalaland (#437)

@OllyOlly Is there any way you can use that as leverage to raise your salary? This happened to me as well, but my company provides a salary range for hires. Long story short, I realized new hires in the group were starting at $5k higher than me, so I spoke up and got it raised to match.

deepomega (#22)

I don’t like to talk about it because I’m a freelance animator, so my income is only relevant to other freelance animators. And the US is currently graduating more neurosurgeons than animators, so.

It’s weird, though, because I also choose to use my high day rate to make more money rather than to take 3 months off each year, which seems to be how most of my freelance animator friends handle it. So I don’t even like to talk to THEM about it.

$26750, graduate student in NYC.

dudeascending (#1,921)

I make $45K-ish, working three days a week for a nonprofit. When I was on salary, it was $60K. I used to be pretty open about my salary, especially when I made much less, but people get a little weird that I make “so” much at a nonprofit.

@deepomega, my friend is a freelance animator and makes six figures. That’s all he’ll disclose.

deepomega (#22)

@JC Yeah, that’s where I am too. I think once you cross into six figures, it gets weird for other people.

OhMarie (#299)

@JC I make just over $60k (like 61 something) at a for-profit market research company with 5 years of experience. My husband makes more than that as a computer programmer, so together we get into the 6 figures. That makes me feel weird to talk about, because a lot of our friends are scraping by (non-salaried jobs, unemployed, supporting a slacker partner, etc).

$54K. I’m a bit sore about it because I’m currently stuck in an unfairly low position at the heirarchy, surpervising and training people with less experience who are at a higher level, getting paid more.

Robin (#1,320)

45k, but they pay for my graduate school, so it’s worth about 50k to me.

i make lists (#1,687)

I’m about to have a salary for the first time! I’ll be making $36k as an operations supervisor in retail banking.

selenana (#673)

Also don’t have a salary! Last year I made very little as I was freelancing/underemployed especially after the earthquake/tsunami struck, and spent most of the year volunteering in the disaster zone. I think I took home about 10,000 USD last year. Now I’m temping and am making 1800yen/hour full time, so that’s about 22USD an hour, about $3500 a month before taxes. I’m on track to keep this job for a few months, but probably won’t join the company if they offer, because the work is quite unstimulating for me.

megadith (#273)

About 200k/year between the two of us.

A few weeks ago while out drinking, a friend of mine asked how much my husband makes and after I made a lengthy speech about how weird it is that people won’t talk about money I told him, and then he snarkily brought it up over and over for the rest of the night. I guess that’s why people don’t talk about it.

Crabtree (#774)

$14.50 an hour, working 15-28 hours a week depending on what they need. I’m moving soon to a full time contract position at $17 an hour for 35 hours a week. I’m very excited.

roro (#2,016)

currently $65k, waiting on a raise to go through that will bring me to $69k. Moving to NY with an adjusted salary to $85k. marketing manager.

for interest’s sake, here’s been my history:
$30k, just out of school, marketing coordinator.
$42k, 1 year experience, marketing associate.
$54k, 3 years experience, marketing specialist.

always ask for more.

RVA_TXN (#1,461)

$41K (Richmond Virginia) – Marketing Manager for an economic development organization (non-profit). This was my first real civilian job. I spent 12 years in the army, which didn’t really transfer over well (in my case). I also have a Master’s degree in Urban and Regional Planning. Sometimes I feel underpaid, but I’m so thankful I can pay all my bills and put some away in savings. I also receive $6,600 a year in child support so that helps!

My feeling is that I should become an animator.

TARDIStime (#1,633)

@Jake Reinhardt Oh, agreed!

Markham (#1,862)

I don’t share my income with anyone but the IRS.

I only told the gf I lived with, so we could split our bills per % of income. But then she told her friends and family, which really irritated me.

Never told my family.

Don’t understand why anyone needs to know.

I definitely don’t share with co-workers. Sure someone might find out they’re underpaid vs. their peers, but I’ve seen SO much drama and hurt feelings that I don’t think it’s worth it.

In fact I’ve never seen a workplace scenario where people disclose income and something good happens.

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