HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns
August 27, 2007, Herald Journal

Scraping by on six figures

By IVAN RACONTEUR

Tony Snow says he is stepping down from his job because he needs to make more money.

This is a problem to which many of us can relate.

Health care and other costs have increased, and salaries have failed to keep pace. Many Americans have found themselves living paycheck to paycheck.

Perhaps it is not so difficult to understand why the White House press secretary, who claims to “love” his job, feels compelled to move on in search of greener pastures.

He simply can’t make ends meet on his $168,000 salary.

Some people might be offended by Mr. Snow’s remarks.

There are plenty of us holding down the lower end of the pay scale who would be willing to trade paychecks with Snow any day of the week.

After all, according to the Census Bureau, the median income in the US is $46,326, which indicates that a whole lot of us are making considerably less than $168,000 annually.

Minnesotans generally do better than the national average, and the median income in this state is $56,084, but this is still a long way from six figures.

The plight of the press secretary might cause one to wonder about the obscene environment in Washington, where a person can make that kind of money and still complain that it is not enough.

If we stop to consider the culture in which he operates, we will soon begin to see where he gets his perspective.

This is a nation governed by the people and for the people, but the people that we have elected to represent us have lost touch with the average American.

Our United States senators and representatives rake in salaries of $165,200.

They have done rather well for themselves, not because they are doing such a good job, but because they do not have to go to their employer to beg for a raise. They simply vote for their own pay increases whenever the mood strikes them.

One suspects that a lot of other Americans would be doing better financially if they had the ability to set their own salaries, but most of us just aren’t that lucky.

Perhaps it is human nature to always want more, and to wring as much out of the system as one can.

But, when it comes to elected officials, there is a difference.

We elect these people to represent our interests, but it is clear that Washington has lost touch with Main Street America, and the primary interests our legislators represent are their own.

Do we really believe that someone who is making a comfortable six-figure income really knows what it is like to try to get by on less than $30,000 per year?

A congressman probably spends that much on car washes and dry cleaning bills. A lot of other people are fighting to survive and support their families on much less money.

Our perception of the value of a dollar changes depending on how many of them we have in our own back pocket.

A US senator grosses about $453 per day. There is a big difference between this and a person making the median income, who brings in about $126 per day.

The picture is more dismal for someone earning $30,000 per year, which translates to about $82 per day.

Workers who are earning the federal minimum wage come in at about $33 per day, which is why so many people at this end of the pay scale end up working two or three jobs just to get by.

The financial decisions made by someone earning less than the median income have a much more direct and immediate impact on his life than those of someone in the upper income brackets.

It should also be noted that those with lower incomes are also less likely to receive benefits such as health insurance and paid vacation time, which further diminishes their real spending power.

Our friends in Washington do not seem to understand this.

At the state level, things are much more reasonable.

Minnesota state senators and representatives receive salaries of $31,140, plus a $66 per diem while on official business.

Washington could take a lesson from this, but it does not appear likely that anything will change, as long as Congress is in charge of the purse strings.

Our first reaction upon hearing someone like Mr. Snow whining about not being able to survive on six figures might be to castigate him and call him an insensitive boob.

We don’t need to sympathize with him, but, we should consider the environment that breeds this type of ignorance and contempt for the average citizen.

Washington is a cesspool of swollen egos and unmitigated greed.

Reform needs to start with our elected officials.

Perhaps we could design some sort of test to see if they are able to manage a budget based on the salaries of their constituents, rather than on the inflated salaries that are the norm in Washington.

If they could do this, it is much more likely that they would be able to balance the nation’s budget effectively.

We need representatives who don’t just talk about fiscal responsibility, but practice it.

This country does not need more government, it needs government that is in touch with the realities faced by the average citizen.

Most of us can’t afford governmental waste and inefficiency, and perhaps, if our representatives did not have the luxury of a six figure income and the ability to raise their salaries any time things get tight, they might begin to take this seriously and do something about it.