White Collar Guilt

Have you ever felt guilty for doing the work you do? Not guilty because what
you are doing is illegal, but guilty because you have it easier than others. At
the risk of bragging I have. The
2012 American
Community Survey
estimates the median earnings for male full-time,
year-round workers in Massachusetts to be
. I make a non trivial amount more than that, and that is my
starting salary.

Why does that make me guilty? Because there are people who work far harder
who make far less. Lets look quickly at a couple examples:

  1. Construction worker: $34,490.
  2. Landscaper:
  3. Teacher:$40,462.
  4. Police Officer:$52,810.
  5. Firefighter:$42,878.

My job is not 1/10th as hard as these jobs. No way am I cut out to get up
early and go build houses or plant trees. I sweat walking up stairs, I would
die trying to make it through a day. How could I even begin to start teaching
kids, I can barely stand kids. Police officer, lets not joke now I can barely
sound commanding to people I know let alone strangers. And firefighter, look at
that job name they FIGHT FIRE. I cried the last time I burnt my hand making

Now this is admittedly a small sample set. You can see I excluded people who
work hard and make a lot of money like Doctors. The point is there are people
who work hard who do not get rewarded. Meanwhile they are people like me who
sit in a cool climate controlled environment, work at a leisurely pace, and get
rewarded disproportionately. I do not mean to imply that money is the perfect
metric by which to judge the relative worth of a job, but I will say that money
is social power. The power to choose where you live, how much you work, the
quality of food you eat, etc. There is a tipping point for sure, where each
extra dollar delivers less social power than before, but I am not sure the
average salaries of my examples have passed that. MIT’s living wage calculator
estimates for one adult the cost of living to be $26,316 if you live in Boston,
MA. Granted the cost of living will be higher in a big city, but it is a decent
reference point. So for everyone except a landscaper you would be good to go.
What about having a family? If you are married and have two kids MIT estimates
$43,683 per year. Doable with one parent not working in some cases based on my
example salaries. Probably pretty comfortable if both are working. So these are
livable salaries, but are they fair for the work?

That is what makes me feel guilty.

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