The twitter sphere, for the whole ten minutes that it succeeded in being distracted from Trump, was set aflame by an Arizona teacher that posted her pay-stub online along with a rant about how she could not possible live on a salary of $35,000 a year.


Okay, before I go any further, I should say a few things. I have a job I love and I make way more than I ever thought I would make in my life, before you even include my wife’s income. It’s awkward to look at a person with just around a fifth of our combined household income and say “What are you complaining about, life isn’t that hard.” Yeah, it is, and no one knows how fortunate I have been more than me. I get a paid six-figure salary to basically engage in my lifelong hobby.

But it is very, very hard to read this, and not think back seven years.

Seven years ago, I was living on about $17,000 a year. I had help from family with my vehicle and in other ways, and it was really hard, but we made it. I think that is about the minimum a person can live on and have any sort of sane financial life. Then I got a call back on an interview and got my first programming job. I was thrilled. I can’t describe how happy I was to be making a salary of $30,000 a year. Now, that was a very low-ball salary for even a first year programmer. A coworker at the same place who, a few years after we had both moved on, found out what I made said “That bastard” about our former employer. But that didn’t describe my feelings at all. He gave me my foot in the door. He gave me the highest salary I ever made in my life up to that point. He gave me a 50% increase in income over what I was making before. And he gave me a 50% raise within 6 months.

When you are living on $17k, $30k is a fortune.

I’ve since closed the gap and, without actually directly finding out what coworkers make, I make something more appropriate my skills and experience. But at no point since that first day have I felt I was being taken advantage of. At no point have I said to myself: “Who could live on this?” Not at $17k, not at $30k, not at any of my salaries since. The last time I remember feeling “I can’t live on this, this is impossible” was, right after I moved out of my parent’s house, trying to make it with a wife on a 30-hour a week minimum wage job when the minimum wage was $5.25/hour. Somehow we bought our tickets to China on that job, but we had to make a lot of sacrifices to do that, and it wasn’t a responsible or sustainable lifestyle.

I can’t fathom a professional, making roughly the median income in their locale, three times the poverty rate, and what is pretty much the starting income everywhere for people in their profession, going to social media to whine about how they can’t live on their salary. If you are starting your career (and all her protests to the contrary, the district website confirms that her pay was first year pay), and your starting salary is higher than 60% of American employees, you don’t get to go on Twitter and complain that you can’t live on it. A $35k a year salary is a $17.50/hour job. You aren’t a millionaire, but lots of people would kill for a $17.50/hour job.

Maybe it’s because of my background. My brother and his wife work at Wal-mart. My mom works at Wal-mart. I think the most prosperous of the guys I hung out with in high school makes around $60k a year (and works like a dog for it), and most of the others make closer to $30k-$35k. I’m grateful for every dime I make above the poverty line. I can’t say it enough.

I don’t make what I make because I deserve it. I make what I make because I had a hobby in my teenage years that happens to pay a six-figure salary if you do it every weekday as an adult. My wife can attest that I live a nontrivial portion of my life in the conviction that the other shoe drops someday. Someday, life turns the circle and someone says “Haha. Just kidding. You don’t get to be in the top quintile doing your hobby. We had you going for a decade though. Now pay it all back, with interest…”

I feel lucky to make what I make. I felt lucky to make the $30k I started out at only seven years ago. So, I just can’t fathom a person doing what they swear up and down is their life’s work, bitching because it only pays a respectable middle class income. I can’t fathom doing what you love, and bitching that it only provides a comfortable and secure lifestyle.

I’m not saying people shouldn’t try to get more. I think (provided you do nothing immoral) you should try to get the best you can get. In the private sector at least, it comes down to the creation of value. Wealth is created. Who should get that wealth? I don’t begrudge the shareholders of Zix a profit. But I want my cut. Teaching is (mostly) public sector, so we have to have a political debate about what teachers get.

And I’m not even saying teachers shouldn’t get more. I think good teachers should get more. Lots more. I think bad teachers should make $0 until they find something more productive to do with their time. I think the best people to evaluate the difference are the parents of the children being educated. But I digress. I don’t disagree with paying teachers more.

I disagree with middle class people, who chose their professions with open eyes, complaining that they can’t pay the bills on a middle class income. If you make $20k a year and can’t pay the bills, I feel for you. If you make $35k a year and can’t, then I don’t. If you can’t pay your bills on $35k, then you can’t pay it on $50k, or $70k, or $100k, because the first $20k covers your needs. After the first $20k, you are choosing between wants and you can always, always want more or better.

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16 March 2018