The Billfold is proud to present an ongoing feature about First Jobs, primarily focused on what they paid then and for comparison’s sake what they pay now, but also everything about them from the hilarious to the terrible. Today’s subject: Bo Niles.
My first job paid $85 a week, for a grand total of about $4,500 a year, in 1966-1967. My first paycheck, after taxes, was $68 (Editor’s note: in 2014 dollars, that’s $499.) The company, a tiny tradebook/non-fiction publishing arm of Rand McNally, no longer exists. It was a dream of mine back then to make $10,000 a year, something I did not achieve until after I married; my husband, also in publishing, had just hit $12,000 a year then: 1970. (Equivalent: $73,500.)
I worked at a number of magazines, including A——- Home, H—– & G—– and M———, before being hired as the Senior Editor of C—– L—— at H. Interviewing at C. for a staff writer position at H—– & G——, I was asked by the Personnel Director if I really wanted the job because they usually hired bright young women who were married (had income from husbands) or receiving monies from their daddies. I was married, but, with an infant at home, we needed my salary. I was hired, and, yes, the pay was paltry. I stayed a year and a half.
I was working at M——— when my second child was born, almost seven years later. In order to hold onto my job — my maternity benefit was $175; maternity leaves did not exist — I returned to work 10 days after he was born. Thankfully we had a daily housekeeper who stayed on with us for 2 years, until I could get my son into day care. And my husband did the midnight feedings.
After almost a decade with C—— L——, in a job I loved, I was let go — fall 1990 — for reasons I never really understood, except that a new job with a new title was created for someone younger, natch, and an acolyte of the editor, who was moving back to NYC. At the end of my tenure there I was making about $47,000 a year, before taxes. I was denied several opportunities for raises, “in order to promote those who were starting out.” Instead, I was asked to write a number of books for H., for which I was made a nominal fee and received no royalties, even though the books were hugely successful; one pre-sold over 90,000 copies! Even so, I loved doing this double job, as I directed photography as well as writing text for the locations I found and shot.
For much of the next decade, I did much better financially as a freelance ‘design writer’ for shelter magazines and an an author of design books. In the mid-1990s, I also had a part-time stint as Martha Stewart’s editor at Clarkson Potter Books/Random House, but that was short-term, only seven months. The pay was very good, with overtime, but I don’t remember the exact figures.
I did go back to work for a couple of years, from 1999-2001, again as a Senior Editor, at T——- Magazine, a division of T.; I made $75,000 at that job, before taxes. Benefits at T. were very good, too. So, in terms of stagnation, I guess you would say $4,500 to $75,000 is a leap. But 1966 – 2001 is an eternity in the workplace.
All in all, I feel that editorial positions have always tended to be low-paying compared with positions in other fields. It’s interesting to revisit all this in terms of wages, rather than accomplishments!!