Friday, May 02, 2008

Putting A Price On Life

from Jacqueline

Sometimes you learn something that just gets you going, or has you thinking for days, weeks afterwards. Cornelia’s post on the link between the preservative added to childhood vaccinations and the rise in autism did that for me a few weeks ago, for example. This week it had to do with money. Yes, the filthy lucre we all need to make the world go round.

I was chatting to one of the women I ride with – let’s call her “L” in case anyone from her company is reading this, not that it’s likely, and not that she’d worry about it anyway. “L” is a paramedic. She saves lives for a living, and she is really good at her job – a five-foot nothing powerhouse, she will get you to a hospital, alive, within twenty-five minutes of getting the call that you’ve had an altercation with a big-rig on the freeway or you’re in cardiac arrest. She is all business when she’s working – and pretty much all business when she’s riding, too. Her almost seventeen-hand warmblood even hides behind her when he hears something that scares him. That’s the warmblood she fell in love with and is paying for over time.

At our usual burger and fries luncheon destination of choice this week (training in dressage makes you really, really hungry), “L” happened to tell us that paramedics from her company working in LA were on strike over a pay deal (I hasten to add that she does not work in that area, and is not on strike). Emergency services coverage would continue, because the company brought in people from other areas, but as a private company they had the right to strike. Now, it had never occurred to ask how much paramedics and other emergency workers earn, so I asked “L” – who is a senior member of the team so you would think is doing really well. If you call thirteen bucks an hour “doing really well.” Last week she worked a 72-hour-week, because that’s what you have to do to make the world go around, and the company needs its workers to do the overtime anyway. Of course there are those who argue that in a 24-hour shift, she might only be called out once, and there are certainly days like that, however, sometimes it’s just one wreck after another. Twenty-five minutes – max – from the time the call comes in, until the time she hands over her patient to the emergency room doctor. That works out at just over six bucks. For a life.

Take that a bit further and you can bring in the men and women who are security checking at our airports, upon whose shoulders sits a responsibility to prevent more 9-11’s and keep the skies friendly – on minimum wage.

I am sure our Jim will weigh in on how we remunerate the men and women who try to keep the streets safe, and let’s spare a thought for the nurses, the firefighters and so many others out there who should be millionaires, if we paid a person according to their worth to society. And sorry, it’s just me, but I can’t help thinking about the fat cats who are currently raking it in – let’s start with the petroleum industry, shall we?

Of course, you could say that our “L” could make things easier for herself by not indulging in her equine-based passion – it’s not a cheap sport by any means. She skimps and scrapes in every other aspect of her life and heck, if that’s what you need to blow off steam after keeping a kid alive in a car wreck, or saving someone’s father in the midst of a heart attack, then you deserve every moment of lightness you can lay your hands on.

Oh, and to end on a bit of whimsy: My brother thought he had a grand idea this week - Stop the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for a few days and use the money saved to give everyone in the country one million dollars. “That’s what you call an economic stimulus package,” said John.

May you have a lovely weekend.


  1. Great post, Jacqueline. I'm so glad I'm not alone in being disgusted with the imbalance of life in this country. The people that are paid the least are the most important part of the infrastructure of this country, but the fat cats don't care. The amount of money that Halliburton is getting in Iraq for various nefarious 'rebuilding and security' schemes (too bad some of the buildings fall down and kill a few more people) in a month would run a third world country for a year - and everyone would get something to eat! But the current ethic in the USA is money is everything, and don't care who you have to screw to make it to the top of the heap. Sad, isn't it?

    When someone is caught trading govt or corporate secrets to other countries or companies, the public and media outcry is that it is so 'unAmerican'. Wrong. When you're paying your employees the lowest wage that they can't make ends meet, screw them on the cheapest benefits and are able to fire them for the flimsiest of motives (for making the year end CEO bonuses, maybe - or building a new headquarters), that person will owe you as much loyalty as you give to them.

    I hope things improve for L. She sounds like a really nice person. And I'm glad she's got her 'warmblood' for comfort.


  2. Good post, Jackie.

    I will weigh in.

    Most cops and fire fighters I know do it because they love the job. In recent years pay has caught up to most private sector jobs in states like Florida and California. When insurance and retirement is factored in it is hard to beat a good public safety job in terms of comfort and satisfaction.

    A paramedic would make an excellent living here working for the county.

    I agree that the culture pays money in an odd manner but we all have choices. Certainly if you're smart enough to be a paramedic or cop you can do other things. But now the question is do you want to choose to make more money or do something that is satisfying.

    Many people choose to write even though the pay, in most instances, is very low.

    I’m in favor of doubling the pay of teachers and other public servants but in lieu of that I’ll trust people to make the choices that seem right for them.

    Have a great weekend.


  3. You're right, of course, Our J, Jim, Marianne, but still I wonder.

    Compare teachers' salaries: grade school teachers are at the low end, though they are responsible for giving the children the foundation of learning so they can go out and make it in the world; whereas college teachers, many (most?) of whom tell their classes, "I can't teach you. You're adults and can do this on your own. I'll help and guide you if you ask." Then dismiss the seminar for half a semester to do the reading and research, meet once more for questions, then dismiss for the rest of the semester and meet at the end to turn in their seminar a graduate assistant. Those teachers get the big bucks.

    Then there're the sports figures who get $126 mil (over seven years, sure) for playing a game, as opposed to you, Jim, and others in law enforcement, who have people shooting at you and trying to kill you....

    Tom, T.O.

  4. Jim Born for President!...... I'd ask for a Marianne and Jackie on a presidential ticket....except for that "pesky" requirement that you be a natural born citizen [not to say either of you were unnaturally born!]
    I'm reminded of the bumper sticker that Jackie has shared with us before, "If you're not angry then you're not paying attention."[or something to that effect]

    Thanks again, Jackie, for helping us do what so many fail to do: THINK.


  5. What a wonderful post! And three cheers for L. She deserves the million dollars, definitely. $13 an hour..... please tell her thank you, for all that she does.

  6. hi jackie,
    oh, you hit a nerv there.
    this problem really seems to be a global one.
    a few years ago i had the opportunity to observe work in an old peoples home. in my eyes these people are all heroes. the run around all day because there is never enough staff on duty. they laugh and cry with the old people, they are patient even if they get shouted at and they turn a deaf ear to verbal abuse.
    yet, at the end of the day they go home with a minimum wage. so they are always glad to do overtime. now overtime does not get paid any more. instead, they have to take time off. of course this makes them even more understaffed.
    but still they soldier on with a smile on their faces.
    all the bast to you and L

  7. Tom
    I appreciate the comparison but if you have a special skill that people want to see, I don't have a problem with singers and actors and athletes getting paid well.

    I prefer to come into the office on a regular basis. That's how a lot of public service jobs are.


  8. I agree, Jim,

    As you said, "choices." Itaught at the university level for five years and had many 'dedicated' colleagues, but just as many (or more) cared less, and I was a public servant for thirty years, as is my wife, who'll retire this year. Almost all the public servants I know want to do and do a good job.

    Still, it galls me that so many folks are so willing to pay millions to that "talent," yet won't vote to up the salaries of police and firemen just a little, or will complain about our politicians (who usually have to be rich to run), rather than create a fund for "poorer" politicians to get noticed, or complain about the price of gasoline over their thrice-daily $5.00 latte.

    Yeah, I just fell off the turnip truck; life is not fair. Supply and demand; guns and butter.

    I said it and I'm glad.

    BURN ZONE is one heckuva book!

    Tom, T.O.

  9. from Jacqueline

    Thanks, all, for your comments - and I think everyone is more or less on the same page here. I will speak for my friend (who would be surprised to know I wrote about her today) and say that she is extraordinarily dedicated to her job, and I know she takes it very, very seriously.

    I will say, however, that we really shouldn't count on dedication and fulfillment to be part of the salary package. Let me explain:

    Years ago, in the midst of a massive strike by teachers in the UK, we had a Canadian guy visit who happened to be a teacher. At the time, the Canadian teachers were also involved in industrial action. I originally trained to be a teacher, and am interested in education, so we obviously began talking about the challenges of working in a job to which you are dedicated - and one in which you know you are making a difference - but at the same time struggling to make ends meet. The conversation continued when we went out for a (cheap) dinner. At the next table, two couples were discussing the teacher's strike. We all just looked at each other when we heard one of the women say, "They always seem to want more money, I mean, isn't teaching supposed to be a calling?"

    As if being "called" should make up for poor pay and unremunerated overtime. I think that particular belief is one that is rampant when it comes to how we view the many workers who serve the public (police, armed forces, firefighters, paramedics, teachers, etc), and we don't stop to consider their true worth in our communities - until we need them.

  10. "Worth to society" says it all.


    We've all seen it and more than likely commented on it, but it never seems to change.

    We expect the teachers and caregivers and protectors of our society to work on minimum wage (and not complain, either) while the folks who spend a lot of time on the evening news or in the gossip rags or trying to be the next "it" walk away with millions.

    That, in a nutshell, says an awful lot about our society, I am sad to say.

    "Choice" is an option, but really what choice is there between doing something you love and doing what you need to do to put food on the table? We've seen our way of life change to the point where two people are required to keep a household together, when less than 70 years ago, one earner would have been enough allowing the other to take care of the family and home.

    We talk a lot about "family values" but we don't value family. We value the dollar.

  11. Just back from NYC and the Edgars. My favorite waste of good dollars is compensating corporate executives for losing money. What a great scam THAT is.

  12. Interesting topic...

    My parents are/were both school teachers. They had two different views on this subject.

    My mom always felt they were underpaid. She had to pay for school supplies out of her pocket along with classes for recertification, etc...

    My dad on the other hand was a math teacher who had divided his salary by the number of days that he actually worked. He figured that if he worked the same number of days that people in the corporate world worked, he would be making a pretty good salary. I once asked him what he liked about being a teacher. One of the things that he said is "Well, I like math. I'm off when my kids are off. I get a couple of months off to do what I want to do plus a couple of weeks at Christmas. Its a good living."

    He retired at 52. My mom is retiring this year at 56. That isn't normal in the corporate world.

    Therefore, as far as teaching is concerned. Its all a matter of perspective.

  13. I loved teaching -- did it for a decade -- and while I agree with your dad to a certain extent, purpleprose, I also agree with your mother.

    Yes, I got summers off and winter break and things like that. And yes, I only got paid for the days I worked, not those vacation days. I was paid for 182 days out of the year. And during that time, I worked substantially more hours than just the regular school day. Gathering supplies, prep took more than the single period they gave me and I frequently had to sub for other teachers then anyway, and I lost an entire relationship because I spent time grading papers and doing after-school things rather than tending the relationship.

    Granted, that says something about that particular relationship! :-p

    But nowadays, my partner discourages me from teaching, even though I'd make more money doing that than selling books and we certainly need it, because I'd lose too much of my time with her, and the stress of administrators and their reindeer games, and parent conferences and involvement (which can be good or really destructive), and indifferent students (I taught high school) and the potential for violence -- well, she just figures it's better if I make less and stay sane.

    But I do miss the kids!

    So the money's good as a teacher if you don't do more than what your contract requires. I just couldn't do that, is all.

  14. see the documentary "No End In Sight" if you want to be REALLY enraged about the actual cost of the war. Or google the new $6 Billion dollar program to upgrade Marine 1 for the President- he needs a bunch of new cool helicopters........
    and most nurses make in the $20/hr area...... sigh.


  15. The grass is always greener on the other side. Both of my parents did exactly what you describe. My dad the one that made the comments about teaching be a good job was a coach at a very small 1-A high school. He coached JV Basketball in the winter (girls and boys). He'd work in the canteen during the varsity games. In the spring and fall, he drove the bus for the tennis team, timed at track meets, and was the voice of the Raiders for football and baseball. On top of that, he came home every night made out the next day's pop quiz for the six classes that he taught and graded the one from the day before. Not to mention lesson plans, dealing with parents, taking classes for recertification, and dealing with whatever the administration threw at him. My mother did something very similar. Both of them still loved their jobs and considered the extra stuff just part of it. By the way, in small schools, my dad wasn't an uncommon type coach. All of the other coaches worked beside him at these events.

    A lot of teachers act as if they're the only ones in the world working 12+ hour days and dealing with stress. I'm a lower level salaried employee in corporate America. I get 10 days of vacation and I work the same kind of hours my parents did (with much less worthwhile results)and I worry about being laid off. Don't get me wrong. I like my job. I get to analyze problems and come up with solutions to said problems. What I'm saying is that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. I'm certainly not disagreeing that teaching is a difficult job, but there are advantages to teaching as a profession. Just like there are advantages to other professions.

    Most good teachers don't go into teaching for the money or the time off. They go into teaching because they have a passion for the subject that they teach (like my dad and math) or because they adore the children and think they can make an impact (like my mom).

  16. I'm a government worker and most California cities are financially strapped due to the salaries and benefits paid to police and firefighters.

    Retiring at 50 with 90% of your salary is now the norm.

    Teachers are underpaid. Not public safey employees.