Thursday, May 19, 2011

Show Me the Money

We’ve already discussed the “American Dream” home.   But what about your “dream” job?  Remember that age-old question “What do you want to be when you grow up”?  (Certainly this may not be a fair question to ask of us when we’re 10 years old but it never stops people.)   So, has working in your “dream” job turned out the way you hoped (so far of course, there is always the chance you could win the lottery or be the last one standing on “Survivor”)?   If not, don’t worry, you’re not alone.   Does thinking about your job situation ever make you wonder what golden ticket the Housewives of Bravo network, or Kate Gosselin, or Speidi Pratt, or [name that reality star here] got and how you can get your hands on one?   Maybe this should be the next big reality TV boom: we could call it “The Golden Race” and design it after “The Amazing Race”. 

It is not surprising that we don’t all raise our hands when we’re 10 years old and say “I want to be an office worker!” Or “I want to be a cashier!” Or “I want to flip burgers!” (Although maids and hotel housekeepers have been getting some serious press time lately.)  Why?  First, and probably most importantly, because they don’t make enough money (and we love money) to support our “dream” lifestyle (I’m still thinking Jay-Z style, but you get the idea). Second, because these jobs don’t exactly give us the personal satisfaction we are looking for.  Even for those of us who claim our “dream” job is simply doing something we love, and being able to live comfortably while doing it, “data entry clerk” isn’t exactly what comes to mind (who wouldn’t want exclusive bragging rights on that one?).  Growing up we tend to focus on more “glamorous” jobs, like “Doctor”, “Astronaut”, and “Movie/Rock star.”   

The reality is our “labor market” (the relationship between available jobs and available workers) follows basic laws of supply and demand:  Most of us end up working in the jobs that are the most abundantly available, and since there are so many of us available to work these jobs, the pay is generally lower.   The “high-skilled, high-wage” jobs that have higher pay generally have large barriers to entry (for example, require an advanced degree) and there are fewer opportunities.   Jobs data released Tuesday indicate that in 2010 almost 40% of Americans worked in office/admin occupations, sales occupations (including retail), and food prep/serving occupations.   Average (mean, not median) wages in these occupational groups were $16.09, $17.69, and $10.21 per hour, respectively, compared to $21.35 per hour nationally across all occupations.   Of the 10 occupations with the largest employment, only one, registered nurses, had wages above the national average.

Just like our “dream” homes, for our “dream” jobs, location and location can make a big difference.   By “location” I mean industry and geography.   For example, accountants and auditors employed at investment banks averaged $40.20 per hour last year, compared to $28.91 per hour for accountants and auditors at furniture stores.   Electricians employed in San Francisco earned an average of $36.81 per hour, compared to $19.23 per hour in San Antonio.

Being able to sort out myth vs. reality on your “dream” job will help you get there – if President Obama could do it so can you.   We just need to devise a good strategy.   Not only do we need to know what an Astronaut does, but even at a young age we need to understand how to become one (they don’t just “beam up” into space a la Star Trek).   In other words, don’t just “dream”, do, and you’ll get your “dream.”

(Bureau of Labor Statistics)

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