Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Relatively speaking

My family is lucky. Although the nation's unemployment rate is reaching for the moon, our two daughters, six months out of college, have finally managed to find jobs. One--who graduated with a degree in anthropology--is a production coordinator in a film and video studio. She will earn nine dollars an hour, or around $18,720 a year for a forty-hour week. No health benefits, of course, but hey, what do you expect these days?

Her twin sister, with a degree in English, landed a freelance editing job for eighteen dollars an hour; that also amounts to around $18,720 a year for a twenty-hour week. She supplements it with occasional baby-sitting. And she just got a temporary second job, which should last about a month during the holiday season, in a women's clothing store, for eight dollars an hour. (Don't laugh: that's still above minimum wage!)

Since rents for vacant free-market apartments in New York City today are beyond criminal, they both have to live at home. There is a price to pay, however. As one sighed recently, "Simply having to be here, after being on my own for four years, is infantalizing."

Some perspective: In 1965, fresh out of college, with a degree in public administration, I landed a job as "information officer" (read public relations hack) at the New York office of the U.S. Department of Labor. (I had taken and passed the Federal Service Entrance Exam, for which I had been prepped, it seems, most of my life by my Depression-era father.) I earned, in today's dollars, over $61,000 a year. Full health coverage, vacations, everything else. Then I got a studio apartment on Manhattan's upper west side for eighty-six dollars a month ($590 today). The apartment, in a beautiful brownstone, had a full kitchen and a working fireplace. The multi-building landlord was obviously prosperous, even though all his apartments were rent-controlled.

The funny thing is, while I shake my head in comparing our daughters' situation to my own at their age, I really can't complain. Given the desperation of so many families today, struggling to survive the wreckage of our greed-fueled economy, our kids are doing okay. . . relatively speaking.

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