Saturday, December 5, 2009

A dollar ain't worth a dime anymore

My previous post ("Relatively speaking" December 1) generated a fair amount of interest. One reader suggested I solicit recollections from all of you about your first job, wage, and/or apartment rent. I took her up on it, and here are the responses.

She also suggested I add the prices of some general consumer items several decades ago. Difficult to find, but some average prices in 1965 are offered by
The People History.* I have no idea if they are accurate; also bear in mind that averages (means) can be very misleading. Still, these seem reasonable, if memory serves.

New house: $13,600
Gas per gallon: 31 cents
New car $2,650
Loaf of bread: 21 cents
Rent per month $118
Income per year $6,450

Arthur Zaczkiewicz: My first job was as a photographer's assistant in a studio on Long Island in 1982--another recession era, remember? I earned $150 gross for four days work each week ($336 today). I also did odd jobs to supplement my earnings, which brought my weekly, gross pay total to $190 ($435 today). My rent was for a share of a house, which was $150 per month ($336).

Ed Lieber: My first job, at db magazine, which reported on sound engineering (the company was located in the attic of the elderly couple who published it), I earned about $14,000 a year ($24,400 today). This was in 1989. I kept that job for four months, then moved to a position at General Media, the company owned by Bob Guccione, that published Penthouse magazine. I earned $21,000, also in 1989 ($36,600 today). Next, in 1990, was CMP, where I also earned $21,000 ($34,700). My next job, a year later, at Chilton, I earned $36,000 ($57,000). First big increase, you could say.

I didn't begin earning real money until ICD Publications hired me at a salary of $75,000 in the year 2000 ($94,000 today). I had been earning about $60,000 ($75,000) at HFN [Home Furnishings News], before ICD lured me away.

Celia Hartmann: I was a college graduate with an editorial assistant position--glorified title of Assistant Managing Editor, on a two-person masthead!--making $155 a week ($513 today) in 1978. I moved into a two-bedroom railroad on very Dominican West 88th street, New York City, the next year, sharing the $270 a month rent ($804 today) with a roommate.
I ate a lot of beans and knew every bar with free food at happy hour!

Anon: My very first job with a paycheck was the summer after high school in 1969. I made $50 per week ($295 today) for forty hours work; was that even minimum wage then? [Minimum wage in 1969 was one dollar per hour--NW.] I was an assistant in the career counseling office of a community college. I lived at home and gave the money to my Dad for my college expenses and clothes my mother was sewing. I didn't have a bank account until I left home that September and started on near campus.

It might be interesting if people also know their college debt. I borrowed $450 ($2,650 today) for my four-year BA. My first job in New York City paid $12,000 in 1978 (almost $40,000 today) with benefits and I got a new job by the end of the year for $15,000 (almost $45,000), also with benefits. I sublet an East Village four-room shotgun apartment for something like $175 ($520), then moved to a two-room, first floor, cave-like apartment in the West Village for $250 ($745). Those were the days. Now I make $37,000 working for a state in danger
of becoming bankrupt; no raises for three years, but I still have insurance and vacation days.

Phelan Wibecan: A friend got me a job at a Tower Records that had opened on the Upper East Side, New York City, in 1996. Shortly after that, I moved into an apartment in a then-undiscovered neighborhood called Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Rent was $600 a month total ($827 today), then split with a roommate. I survived on a routine of financial jockeying that consisted of cash advances from work, pleading phone calls to my mom, and a landlord who had accepted the fact that she'd get the rent eventually. If I recall correctly, I was making about $160 a week ($220 today)--five dollars per hour for forty hours, less tax.

Elissa Krauss: I paid $65 a month ($433 today) for a three-room, railroad, tub-in-kitchen aparment on East 11th Street between Avenues B and C, New York City, in 1966. I split the rent with my roommate [a mutual friend from City College days]. Have no idea what I made, but I suspect it was something like $30 a week ($200 today), since I was still a student, working part time.

Jennifer White Karp: I couldn't find a job after graduating college in 1993 (this was during the last recession) so I was waiting tables in a catering hall--it was miserable--and living at home while I sent out my resume. So I was thrilled when I landed a job as an assistant editor at a weekly newspaper in East New York, Brooklyn! This is probably the most dangerous part of New York City--and one of my first assignments was to visit the 75th Police Precinct (highest murder rate in the city) to report on the goods-for-guns exchange program that had just been launched.

I was so jazzed--I thought I was going to be doing gritty crime reporting! The salary was something like $18,500 a year ($27,600 today)--but it was enough for me to move into an apartment share in Long Beach with someone with whom I went to high school. We paid a ridiculously low few hundred a month (almost $450 today).

As for doing real journalism, the newspaper, "The Spring Creek Sun," was owned by Starrett City, the giant housing complex. The management wasn't fond of crime stories. So a story about a sniper on a balcony would be trimmed to practically nothing and buried inside. On the front page would be stories about what was going on at the senior center.

There were a lot of heavy snows that winter and I would spend the night with the receptionist and her family, who lived in Starrett. It was a very different place to grow up, compared with the burbs where I was from. Her kids came home directly after school and did not go out again until it was time to go to school next morning. It wasn't safe for them to walk alone to the community center while she was at work. It was grim but I covered a lot of interesting stories, even if we didn't get to run them the way I wanted. I was there ten months, when I found what I considered a higher-paying job: $25,000 a year ($36,400 today) at another weekly newspaper, this time back in the burbs. Still, it beat the catering hall.

*For average prices of food products in the 1970s, many by brand name, see

1 comment:

Ed Lieber said...

And look at what lawyers, doctors and financiers make in starting salaries. Even back then. It's kind of a joke when you think about how poorly paid editors are. (I think all your subjects were in the editorial field). Might be interesting to look at other fields, though it might be hard to find participants.