Magazine article The American Prospect

The Great Divide

Magazine article The American Prospect

The Great Divide

Article excerpt

Dot-com billionaires are sprouting like spring crocuses, and their money is trickling down through the rich topsoil of America. The average pay of chief executives of major companies rose 18 percent in 1999, to $12 million. (Back in 1990, it was a modest $1.8 million.) Fearful of the dot-com brain drain, big law firms just hiked the pay of first-year associates to $120,000, not including signing bonuses. Wall Street investment banks, facing the same threat, are even raising the pay of analysts just out of college, to more than $75,000. The frenzy knows no bounds. Setting a new moral example for college students across America, the president of Brown University, not content with a meager $300,000 salary, just jumped ship after only a year and a half for another university that offered three times as much.

Fed chief Alan Greenspan fears that all this prosperity is causing consumers to buy more than the economy can produce, which means that inflation is just around the corner. So Greenspan and his pals at the Fed have hiked interest rates five times since last June in an attempt to slow things down. The word on the street is that they'll hike rates again when they meet in May, and continue raising them until consumers calm down.

Now switch your sights to the 400 janitors who recently blocked traffic in Los Angeles to complain about their pay. They earn $6.80 to $7.90 per hour--less than $16,000 a year. Adjusted for inflation, that's less than janitors earned 15 years ago. The cleaning companies say they can't afford a dollar more, but the janitors have been watching the rents soar in the office buildings they take care of--the same offices in which executives and professionals are pulling in larger and larger multiples of the janitors' take.

Janitors aren't the only ones working harder for less. More than two million Americans work in nursing homes--bathing and feeding frail elderly people, cleaning their bedsores, lifting them out of bed and into wheelchairs, and changing their diapers. They earn, on average, between $7 and $8 an hour, about the same as janitors. Some 700,000 people work as home health care aides, attending to the elderly, sick, or disabled at home. Their pay averages between $8 and $10 an hour--less than $20,000 a year. Another 1.3 million Americans work in hospitals as orderlies and attendants, at about the same rate. Adjusted for inflation, most of them also are earning less than they did 15 years ago.

An estimated 2.3 million Americans are paid to care for young children in child care centers or organized play groups, or as nannies. …

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