People are pretty upset at Dog Ate My Finances right now. (What else is new? She’s a bit of a polarizing agent.) She is getting a lot of flack for complaining about her new paycheck. She points out how high her old checks were six digits (before the cents) and she was supporting her husband. Now he’s getting crazy-high pay, and she’s down to $1,700 a paycheck. In case you’re wondering that works out to just over $44,000 a year before taxes.
Here’s the problem: People completely missed the point of the post. She’s not talking about how much she makes, except in relative terms. The post is even called “Income Disparity.” But she was her usual blunt self, so people zeroed in on the amount, rather than her overall message. They focused on her statement that $1,700 a paycheck is “humiliating” rather than why she feels that way.
I admit, it can be hard to stomach someone complaining about so much money — especially given that Dog makes more in two weeks than I do in a whole month. In fact, Tim and I combined make less than she does each month. But that’s not the point.
The point is that she used to be the breadwinner. She made a significant more than her now-husband. It was a role; it was a fact that inevitably became a basic trait of her self-image. You can argue that this shouldn’t be so, but our society places a lot of emphasis on work/income as identity. So just accept that fact.
Now that she looks at her paycheck and looks at her husband’s, she’s lost. Her earning power was an intrinsic part of how she defined herself. Now that’s diminished. She’s no longer the lead breadwinner. She’s no longer paid as well for her time. To make things doubly confusing, her husband is now making scads of money — now getting paid a lot for his work.
In that situation, it’s hard not to question yourself. Suddenly, your time isn’t worth as much — at least based on what a company is willing to pay you. Does that mean you’re worth less? Of course not. But that’s easy to say from the outside. When you’re living through it, things are a lot less clear.
When I was waiting for disability, I had to face the idea that I might never be able to work again. That turned out to be an overstatement, but I was run-down enough, we had no idea what I would actually be capable of. So I had to work on accepting the idea that my earning power would be nil.
That’s a pretty scary idea — and not just from a financial perspective. I felt as though I were worth less, if not outright worthless. I couldn’t imagine someone wanting a woman who couldn’t pull her own financial weight. It meant I’d always be financially dependent on my spouse. That’s a big deal.
With a lot of therapy, I finally was able to differentiate between my overall worth and my ability to earn income. That took a lot of time, though. It’s hard to separate the two in this society, even when you’re not depressed and suffering from low self-esteem. If you don’t believe me, talk to some out-of-work people. You’ll find financial worry is only part of the problem.
I recognize that $44,000 a year is pretty far from being out of work. But, again, it’s about the disparity. Dog took a huge pay cut, and that generally has a big effect on self-image.
The average American worker makes $32,708.10 a year — a little under $16 an hour. If you took a pay cut as deep as Dog’s, you’d earn a little under $9 an hour. I know I’d feel pretty frustrated: underpaid and undervalued.
And while low pay creates other concerns (namely, paying rent) my guess is you’d still be annoyed by working so hard for so much less. But you’d better be careful who you vent to. There are people earning $7.25 an hour. And then there are people who can’t get any job. To them, you have it pretty good.
Have you ever had a financial blow that made you question your self-worth? What do you think about how the two are tied together?