Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

September 24, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

THE TRAP....In The Trap, Daniel Brook argues that we have a cruel new problem in America: do-gooder jobs at nonprofits don't pay enough to support a middle-class lifestyle, and this is forcing young college grads into a hideous choice between living frugally or else taking a corporate job.

Now, I admit it: this doesn't strike me as anything either especially new or especially hideous, and as I was reading Doron Taussig's review of The Trap in the October issue of the Monthly, a few other things came to mind as well. When I read about the 27-year-old activist making $35,000 per year fighting global sex trafficking, for example, I thought: Hey, that's about what I made (adjusted for inflation) back when I was that age. And I was working at an aggressively for-profit enterprise at the time. It also occurred to me that the median income for 25-34 year olds is $27,000, which means that our activist friend isn't really doing all that badly, even if she does live in New York City. And anywhere else she'd be doing more than OK. And finally, I got pretty annoyed by passages like this: "Today, many young people are interested in public service....But when it comes time to pay the bills, we go into the corporate world, enduring long, meaningless hours, and often cognitive dissonance, because it's the only sector of the economy that can afford to pay enough for what was formerly considered a middle-class life."

Call me hypersensitive, but up until a few years ago I spent my entire life working in the "corporate world." And guess what? I didn't think my hours there were long and meaningless! In fact, I thought it was pretty respectable and rewarding work. If you want to work for a nonprofit, that's great, but can we please knock off the flower-child hyperventilating about the alternatives all amounting to "selling out"?

So far, though, I'm just kvetching — and I know you guys are going to ream me for it in comments. I'm sure I deserve it for this Scrooge-like attitude. What's more, I'll bet Brook anticipated exactly this reaction from a lot of people. But then I got to this part of the review:

Comparisons to previous decades are also complicated by the fact that the number of Americans employed by nonprofits doubled between 1977 and 2001, a much faster growth rate than both the government and for-profit sectors, according to the research group Independent Sector.

Huh? Doesn't this blow apart the entire premise of the book? If the nonprofit sector is growing faster than either the government or corporate sector, that must mean that lots of people are finding it perfectly possible to work for them. It might very well require a sacrifice of some kind (either from you or your spouse), but apparently an awful lot of people are finding that sacrifice both possible and worthwhile.

So what's the problem? I don't doubt that there's a subculture of Ivy League graduates living in big cities who simply aren't willing to work for less than a six-figure salary, but just how widespread can The Trap really be if the nonprofit sector is doing so handsomely? Color me unconvinced.

On the other hand, let me say that I agree completely with Brook about one thing: it's a crime that we don't have universal healthcare in America, and I hope we manage to change that sometime soon. My guess is that it would help only slightly with the problem he's writing about, but it would still be a great idea.

Kevin Drum 1:28 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (120)

Bookmark and Share
 
Comments

Very good insight!

Posted by: John D. Froelich on September 24, 2007 at 1:43 AM | PERMALINK

Sounds like the same problem the military has: keeping one-term wonders from going into contracting at 3x-5x the pay. Most jobs in service have enough bennies to keep the total compensation at what would otherwise be considered a respectable and competitive rate. But with outsized money slushing around in the defense contracting industry, it's all small beans now.

Posted by: bubba on September 24, 2007 at 1:47 AM | PERMALINK

You might think that the very first thing that someone choosing to work for a non-profit might understand and appreciate is the concept of sacrifice.

Posted by: frankly0 on September 24, 2007 at 1:48 AM | PERMALINK

number of Americans employed by nonprofits doubled between 1977 and 2001

How are the non-profit employees being counted? Are $8.00 ACORN signature gatherers counted? And I don't have hard data, just curiosity - but how did welfare reform affect this? Did people shift status without shifting jobs, let alone job descriptions?

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on September 24, 2007 at 1:48 AM | PERMALINK

As someone who's seriously considering a career in non-profits, I can say that money really isn't a factor for me, so long as I'm not living in a box: even the lowest eschalons of working Americans are doing better than a supermajority of workers the world over - at least for now.

Posted by: Tim P. on September 24, 2007 at 1:49 AM | PERMALINK

I think this problem is far more prevalent in top law schools, where far more students enter with the intention of practicing public interest law than exit. After all, good public interest jobs are highly competitive, and with tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands in loans, it's difficult for someone to choose that hard-to-get $45,000/yr. job over the easier to get $120,000/yr. job working for wealthy clients. There is no ultimate solution to this problem, but I do wish that prospective students could have a more accurate read on their future.

As for your claim that the non-profit sector is doing so handsomely: this is somewhat true, but don't forget that turnover is tremendously high. Most people moonlight in non-profits for a few years before settling in with corporate America. But as you said, this is nothing new. I don't think the problem here is a Trap so much as a Trick: the Trap has always been there, but people overestimate their ability to avoid it.

Posted by: crazymonk on September 24, 2007 at 1:56 AM | PERMALINK

even the lowest eschalons of working Americans are doing better than a supermajority of workers the world over

I make socially responsible spending choices. A friend/coworker who was born and raised in Nigeria used to rib me about my spending choices with "Oh! You are a very rich woman!" and I would respond "Well, by global standards, yes, I am rich indeed. But in the United States, I am at the lower end of middle class."

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on September 24, 2007 at 1:57 AM | PERMALINK

As a recent college graduate ('05), and with many friends graduating around me, I'm coloring myself an expert. My impression is that it largely comes down to the amount of debt incurred while an undergrad. I came away with zero, my girlfriend at another university piled up $65,000. My employment options are exponentially more broad than she. This then becomes a critique of the skyrocketing cost of higher education, not of (allegedly?) low-paying non-profit jobs.

About wages: I would add that entry level pay is entry level pay, wherever you work. However, my impression is that the salary ceiling is generally much lower for senior positions at non-profit organizations than at for-profit places.

Posted by: Zachary on September 24, 2007 at 2:00 AM | PERMALINK

"The service side is doing all the work.... It's ever more dominant," says Ethan Harris, chief economist at Lehman Brothers in New York

Daniel Brook argues that we have a cruel new problem in America: do-gooder jobs at nonprofits don't pay enough to support a middle-class lifestyle -K Drum

This is not surprising to me considering its what the GOP aim has been: sidelining the do-gooders. The book the Dream and the Nightmare [Myron Magnet] is Karls favorite book and the apparent script for 'compassionate' cough cough conservatism.

Posted by: Ya Know... on September 24, 2007 at 2:13 AM | PERMALINK

^

Posted by: kyle on September 24, 2007 at 2:42 AM | PERMALINK

Go away, Kyle. Now and forever.

Making lengthy off-topic posts in thread after thread does not contribute to the discussion and does not help your candidate.

Posted by: tanstaafl on September 24, 2007 at 3:11 AM | PERMALINK

One factor that needs to be remembered is that the official inflation numbers have been understated for some time. Housing costs, for example, have gone up faster than the official CPI number, especially in areas that have lots of jobs.

Another factor is debt. Students are getting out of school far deeper in the hole than 20 years ago.

Posted by: Joe Buck on September 24, 2007 at 3:17 AM | PERMALINK

So why doesn't free-market competition drive down corporate salaries to the non-profit levels? Isn't that what market competition is supposed to do?

Posted by: JS on September 24, 2007 at 3:22 AM | PERMALINK

Zachary/Joe: I agree about the college debt thing. That really does seem like something that's gotten out of hand.

Joe: Housing has gone up a lot in a small number of the very biggest cities, it's true. But not everywhere. And there are other things that have trailed the official CPI. I don't know if it all washes out, but it doesn't just work in one direction. Overall, the CPI really is a pretty decent indicator of living costs.

Posted by: Kevin Drum on September 24, 2007 at 3:25 AM | PERMALINK

One other thing I didn't mention in the main post is that Brook seems to assume that nonprofits are all competing with super high-paid corporate jobs: consultant, lawyer, bond trader, etc. But really, that's only a tiny fraction of the job market. The vast majority of people considering nonprofit jobs are choosing between the nonprofit and, say, being a tech writer or a junior account manager. The difference in salary just isn't all that huge for the vast majority of corporate jobs out there.

Posted by: Kevin Drum on September 24, 2007 at 3:29 AM | PERMALINK


ECHELONS !!!!

I just googled "eschalon" and it returned about 1100 hits, which is fascinating since the word does not even exist.


BTW Kevin, you must be pretty multi-cloured by now. :)

Posted by: billy on September 24, 2007 at 4:07 AM | PERMALINK

It's one thing, and maybe the point, if just going from college to a np with not much graciousness salary wise was the only issue...how long is a person going to be able to stay at that salary or with the understandbly much lower annual raises that np's can sometimes barely afford and fp's make room for. Another thought is the amount of np's there are...I worked at Whitman Walker Clinic, HIV and AIDS np 3 years ago and I saw that there are tons of np's that have staffs of less than 3-7 people just in the health sector alone, that they fold and re-appear as some other entity when they lose and regain funding, staff turnover is high for usually office oriented jobs...Just maintaining their existence was so much more part of the job for these 'small' np's, so much so it much more affected their service and success, which helped determine their funding situations. I don't know how this plays out in other metro areas but that's what I've seen in D.C..

Posted by: andre lee on September 24, 2007 at 4:22 AM | PERMALINK

Do the people who write such things have any idea what most people earn?

Its true $27,000 is low, but $47,000 isn't unusual. Not everyone earns six figure incomes.

Posted by: SPIIDERWEB� on September 24, 2007 at 4:35 AM | PERMALINK

I worked for Bank of America right out of the University of Washington, for then-decent wages of $1,690 per month before taxes. Even though I had very good performance reviews and had been only recently promoted to assistant unit supervisor for customer relations at the Pasadena, CA Card Center, my 23 months as a corporate autotron convinced me that both my heart and my prospects lay elsewhere. Once I was accepted to graduate school at the University of Hawaii, I abruptly gave my two weeks' notice, moved to Honolulu and never looked back.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on September 24, 2007 at 5:26 AM | PERMALINK

I'd be interested to see the comparison of average NP vs. corporate salary adjusted for effective price of benefits (how many NP's offer pension and health insurance?) When I left school in the late 80's, MassPIRG paid field managers minimum wage and that pay was docked if you didn't make quota, and no benefits whatever. Drexel Burnham Lambert, still going strong after Boesky went to the big house, offered college grads $150,000+bonus to start, regardless of major.

And the comparison of the above avg. adj. salary graphed out to say 50 years of raises (or lack thereof)?

Personally, I don't see how Kevin's analysis could possibly hold water given the precipitous drop in funding for communitarian and non-profit-oriented activities, from arts to basic research, from both govt and charitable giving (cf. e.g., massive drop in pro-bono legal work, Rockefeller ending arts funding, and on and on).

At the same time, the alleged gap is reduced by the crushing drop in quality of life and reward for middle class employment across the board, which pressures anyone qualified to at least try for those high-end corporate jobs.

Is Kevin seriously suggesting that a tech writer gets paid like a Greenpeace worker?

And in salary adjusted for actual hours worked? Current mid/senior-level manager NP jobs I've seen pay around 40-50k with minimal benefits and often expect 80+ hours a week of work. The tech writers go home at 5pm.

Posted by: q on September 24, 2007 at 5:49 AM | PERMALINK

And since when, exactly, did we decide to measure our value by our "stuff?" Some time ago, as I remember, but it's still a measure I regret we've been allowed to adopt. For instance, the McMansion has become the "American dream." Will someone please explain to me why 3500 sf homes have become the standard.

Posted by: indykat on September 24, 2007 at 6:03 AM | PERMALINK

"Blessed are those who suffer for righteousness sake..."

It has always been thus. The Pharisees make a pile of money, while those who struggle to make the world a better place get by on nothing. However, wealth is not measured in dollars. Many who are very wealthy are very unhappy. Those who live only to acquire things, in the end, have empty lives. Look at George W. Bush. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on September 24, 2007 at 6:32 AM | PERMALINK

Yeah, Kevin, I agree with you insofar as:

1) I think the real problem is how widespread the misperception has become that the good nonprofit jobs are really hard to get, and there aren't really that many nonprofit jobs anyway. In the NJ/NY area, there area lot of different nonprofit jobs, and there are a lot in other areas, too. They don't pay that bad, just not too many of them are glamorous (as opposed to, say, being a major league attorney). So if you're willing to move, finding a nonprofit job should be easy.

2) I haven't really kept up with my friends from my activisty days, but the impression I get is that the people who were the most holier-than-thou in college actually are more likely to have not really even looked for a nonprofit job, and sold out for a job in the corporate sector. I think people are really under the impression that the nonprofit market is so bad they're just going to end up looking for a job forever or in a job where they feel really compromised and unable to make a difference. It seems as if our most dedicated and capable young people really all just want to be journalists or columnists at the New York Times so they can tell everyone what they think they need to know and aren't hearing, and spend 20% of their waking hours gritting their teeth at the thought that the NYT's hiring process isn't really what it should be.

The liberal movement in America is suffering mostly from people not knowing about the problems we and our world face and consequently there not being enough interest. The liberal media should be an area of focus for growth by liberals. If they work on this, then the liberal media should become a growth industry and more jobs should develop there.

Posted by: Swan on September 24, 2007 at 6:53 AM | PERMALINK

To those of you living elsewhere, this will sound like nonsense but the truth is that $35,000/year in NYC is chump change. It's barely enough to make ends meet, given the high price of housing, food, and so on. It is impossible to build a career on that, impossible to think about settling down with a partner, and certainly it's impossible to think about kids. Raising a parakeet may work, though.

In the past, many of these jobs, say at Amnesty International or at Dance Theater Workshop, were filled by youngsters who still had financial ties with upper middle-class and extremely rich parents. It was not unusual to encounter Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, and the like working at not-for-profits. So in a very real sense, many of these jobs - by no means all, however - were subsidized positions, paid for in great part by the trust funds of the well-off and the very rich.

Not so much anymore. Very few families can afford to keep a kid in Manhattan, or even Park Slope, if the kid is making $35,000.

That's what the problem is. The economic model that sustained not-for-profits is collapsing. And the status that once may have accrued from, say, spending 3 or 4 years working as a mid-level administrator at the NYC Ballet is worthless now. It sounds like a waste of time, if you're trying to change careers to a corporate environment. And the financial disadvantage of such a career compounds.

As for the "soullessness" of a corporate environment...there are good jobs to be had there. And there are terrible jobs. I had both before I established myself independently. It's a simple fact that there are more terrible jobs working for a large corporation than good ones.

Posted by: tristero on September 24, 2007 at 6:59 AM | PERMALINK

There are a lot of jobs that need to be done in the nonprofit sector, and probably more than there were before, that should be paid jobs but are now just unpaid internships. So the problem is really more a lack of funds (ergo, lesss interest/awareness in liberal causes), if anything, not lack of work to do. I worked at an internship for a legal nonprofit in New York in an office where they really could have used more paid employees. The work I was doing for them, with some more legal representation added on to it, could have been enough for a paid position, and they certainly had plenty of people writing them who needed legal representation.

Posted by: Swan on September 24, 2007 at 7:14 AM | PERMALINK

This has to do with the disparity in getting out the message between the liberal and conservative movements in another way, too: A lot of nonprofits take or should or used to take, public funding. The success of the conservatives in de-funding public aid and entitlement programs has probably directly led to offices cutting back staff. So if we have more success politically we should have more jobs. This also applies to government jobs that are basically public interest jobs, which are eliminated by the conservatives by eliminating the departments/programs.

Posted by: Swan on September 24, 2007 at 7:18 AM | PERMALINK

Tristro wrote:

To those of you living elsewhere, this will sound like nonsense but the truth is that $35,000/year in NYC is chump change.

$35,000 is good enough to start out on if you're commuting into New York City. I don't know about living there.

Posted by: Swan on September 24, 2007 at 7:21 AM | PERMALINK

$35,000 isn't really the median entry-level salary for a NYC nonprofit anyway-- it's more like $35,000+ entry-level. The NYC nonprofits have the funding to provide this, plus they know they have to be able to provide a living wage if they happen to hire a woman with three kids who has an apartment in the city, say.

Here's the website for nonprofit jobs: Idealist

2905 nonprofit NY jobs, as of this morning.

Posted by: Swan on September 24, 2007 at 7:36 AM | PERMALINK

"I don't doubt that there's a subculture of Ivy League graduates living in big cities who simply aren't willing to work for less than a six-figure salary,"

I'll bet you would find 75% of Ivy graduates in law or financial services firms. A waste of brains.

Posted by: bob h on September 24, 2007 at 7:36 AM | PERMALINK

I went to a very, very name-brand law school. The official culture at said law school obsessed about their grads running off to corporate America for obscene megabucks. (This was back in the 1980's). Since they were awash in money, they came up with a loan-forgiveness program. Guess what? Nothing happened. A very few students still went into public interest law; the overwhelming majority continued to work for The Man.

Of course, the public interest contingent wasn't all that public interest, when you broke it down. Most of them went to fancy government agencies, or extremely glossy (if ill-paid) nonprofits, like the ACLU or the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Needless to say, a fancy government agency probably provides better corporate training than most corporate law firms; the glossy nonprofits provide many law professors. About 3-5 grads a year wound up supplying personal legal services to poor people.

The point of my screed? There is a lot of hypocrisy here. The megabucks are VERY attractive, and lots of people who bleat about their frustrated commitment to nonprofits don't really have it.

Posted by: Joe S. on September 24, 2007 at 7:59 AM | PERMALINK

Well, I'm a 54 year old director of a rural, environmental non profit, making $35k (I keep fighting our Board to keep it that low). I love my life, I love the freedom that operating a small non profit gives me. Not to say it is easy to keep raising money. As one commenter noted above, it does seem to get harder every year. But we seem to manage (so far).

I spent many years in the corporate world (environmental consulting and contracting). Much of that work was rewarding, but this is much better. However, those years in the corporate world generated income that allowed my family to pay off all of our debts - which certainly helps us live within somewhat more modest means.

But then we have always lived frugally, always within our means, we don't want a lot of "stuff," and we have two incomes (about the same). If someone feels a need to have the biggest and newest stuff, then probably the non profit world is not the place for them to be.

Posted by: wvng on September 24, 2007 at 8:15 AM | PERMALINK

Unfortunately, there is a difference between now and then - then being the 1960s. We have our cost of living statistics, but this is an arbitrary compiliation of what the government thinks comprises the ordinary economy of the everyday working person. Even our inflation statistics presented as an umbrella concept does not necessarily relate to life as we live it.

This came up recently in a discussion between myself and my son and daughter-in-law who are new parents. I stayed home with each of my kids until they were two years old when they were ready for a combination day care/preschool. My daughter-in-law does not have that luxury. She will be returning to work when my granddaughter is 3 months old.

It's not a question of "giving something up". They could give up all their luxuries and she still couldn't afford to stay home. The most important issue is the cost of housing. While there is a difference is the cost of housing in modest neighborhoods (the kind my dh and I lived in when we were young) and solid middle class neighborhoods, the difference is not enough to enable this young mother to stay home.

History: With my first child I was living on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and renting a farm house for $50/month. The heating bill was $100/month in the winter. After my second child was born, I was living in a blue collar town in NJ. The price of our house was $36,000. Houses in upscale white collar towns was $100,000 or more.

Today, homes in my old town run $400,000. It's still a blue collar town. Upscale, but not rich, white collar towns run $500,000 - 800,000 for ordinary older homes. More if you want to live in a McMansion.

And housing prices are only the tip of the iceberg. The whole enchilada is the house price plus the mortgage. Even considering inflation, holding a mortgage on a house $400,000 or more is not the same as holding mortgage on a $36,000 house (even though our mortgage rate on the old house was higher than the mortgage rate on our current house.)

And rents are unbelievable. When we moved to NJ you could rent a six-room garden apartment for $600 in a respectable if not affluent neighborhood. You can't even rent a studio apartment for that today.

So renting or buying, today's young people are in a bind. I'm not knowledgeable enough about the profit vs non-profit salaries to comment on the affordability of jobs.

However, it is clear to me that in the 1960s it was possible to live a frugal but respectable life and today it is not. Oddly, many of the items we thought of as luxuries in the 60s are not that expensive any more. Almost anyone can have a pool in their backyard. But the basic necessities are expensive as hell. And it's the cost of basic necessities that are causing economic heartaches.

Posted by: hell's kitchen on September 24, 2007 at 8:25 AM | PERMALINK

The reason "nonprofit" jobs have doubled is quite simple the number of associations—most of whose most important function is government advocacy, or "lobbying"—has increased. This whole premise for a book is a bunch of weepy BS.

Posted by: KevStar on September 24, 2007 at 8:30 AM | PERMALINK

Being in NYC, I've seen a lot of people working non-profit for several years who haven't made it to $35k a year. The economics are simple - unless you are fantastically lucky, your rent will be a minimum of $700 a month, with an hour or more walk/subway (you will NOT be in Manhattan (unless you are above 160th street) or Park Slope - you'll be in Astoria, or Bed-sty). You won't be able to run a car, so groceries from the local store will cost double what the rest of the country pays.

Posted by: royalblue_tom on September 24, 2007 at 8:31 AM | PERMALINK

Well, keep all this in mind when housing prices tank. It's not the failure of the economy, it's an adjustment of real estate prices to make housing affordable to people of modest income! (Hey, you can't have it both ways. If housing is too expensive, a crash is good; if a crash is bad, then you must not think housing is too expensive.)

I like Kevin's point, though, which is this - if there was really a big problem hiring people for nonprofits, there wouldn't be so many people hired to work for nonprofits.

Posted by: Avatar on September 24, 2007 at 8:33 AM | PERMALINK

The wages considered "pretty good" in the US always amaze me, but I live in a country where the minimum wage is 35393 usd with 5½ weeks paid vacation and a minimum of 6% pension on top.

Posted by: Mike In Denmark on September 24, 2007 at 8:34 AM | PERMALINK

One difference between Kevin and a recent college grad is DEBT. College loans are much larger and some of them carry over 7% interest.

Posted by: bakho on September 24, 2007 at 8:47 AM | PERMALINK

The growth in nonprofit jobs might also have something to do with the expansion of conservative welfare: remember that non-profits include conservative think-tanks and faith-based organizations.

And to the New Yorker complaining about the horror of living in Astoria or Bed-Stuy...why would anyone think that someone working for a non-profit should live in a neighborhood priced for the rich?

Neither Astoria nor Bed-Stuy are bad places to live (and there are a lot of non-profit employees scattered around other decent outer-borough neighborhoods, such as Prospect Heights), and they both have access to decent public transportation.

Posted by: Adrian Lesher on September 24, 2007 at 9:03 AM | PERMALINK

Well, I am a college grad plus working at a PBS station, and while we don't make a lot of money, the station always reviews the market and makes sure we get paid at least the low end of the commonly paid wages for comparable work. I think what is interesting is that a lot of the typically male jobs here are frequently filled by women, probably because this is an opportunity for them to get a toehold in the industry and move upward, something they would have a really hard time doing out in the commercial world. And before you make snide comments, the female producers here consistently win Emmys so they are no slouches. And I have been an engineer for several years, so I must be doing my job.

Posted by: Carol on September 24, 2007 at 9:04 AM | PERMALINK

I've worked for the same arts non-profit for 22 years. If I was the head of a household of four I'd be making close to poverty wages. Fortuneately, I am single and live in a cheap state.

My situation is probably not typical of non-profits, but from my experience with non-profits of various non-profits in many fields, upward mobility is a rare thing. Once the top spot is filled (which in my case, by me), it is rare to find an opening. If one really has the ambition to claw to the top of the non-profit world one probably has the ambition to claw to the top of the corporate world where the pay and perks are better.

And let's not pretend all non-profit people are hippy idealist. Just remember Elizabeth Dole was the head of Red Cross

Posted by: Martin on September 24, 2007 at 9:05 AM | PERMALINK

My employment options are exponentially more broad than she.

I expect your girlfriend would prefer the pronoun "her". Just kidding--good observation on debt.

Posted by: RSA on September 24, 2007 at 9:13 AM | PERMALINK

Oops. Above, I meant "hers". Errors are inevitable with a grammar/spelling-based joke.

Posted by: RSA on September 24, 2007 at 9:14 AM | PERMALINK
I'll bet you would find 75% of Ivy graduates in law or financial services firms.

Guilty. As noted by several commenters, it was debt that drove me from working w/ NFPs (in a for-profit capacity, but there were similar financial dynamics) to a corp.

That said, my wife is a social worker; she makes good money by those standards, and is finding it very difficult to find a similar position elsewhere (and this in NYC).

Posted by: jpe on September 24, 2007 at 9:16 AM | PERMALINK

I don't understand this post. Somebody wrote a book saying that if you want to make a salary in the top 5%, then you can't have an entry-level nonprofit job. Some people thought this point was so interesting that it was worth publishing the book, and others thought it was worth reviewing the book.

I guess that's the point of Kevin's post, but aren't there lots of books out there that don't say anything? Why pick this one?

Posted by: reino on September 24, 2007 at 9:18 AM | PERMALINK
Neither Astoria nor Bed-Stuy are bad places to live

Yeah, right? I just chuckled when I saw the horror dripping from the words "you can't live in Manhattan." To quote Michael Jackson: you're being ignorant.

That was s'posed to be funny. It didn't really work.

Posted by: jpe on September 24, 2007 at 9:19 AM | PERMALINK

If Kevin Drum's corporate experience was in journalism, well ... Journalism pays spit. At one point, I wanted to be a journalist, but when I found out what the money was, I gave up the ink stains and the green eye shades in a second. Journalism, of a sort, is an NGO. Or at least it's treated like one when it comes to the pay envelope.

Posted by: Jeffrey Davis on September 24, 2007 at 9:20 AM | PERMALINK

You have to think of the cost of living compared to when you were young, Kevin.

Rent, a mortgage, a car payment, student loans, all these costs are staggering for someone making a lower middle class income.

Posted by: JJ on September 24, 2007 at 9:23 AM | PERMALINK

Almost anyone can have a pool in their backyard.

You see these? These are tears.

Posted by: Jeffrey Davis on September 24, 2007 at 9:24 AM | PERMALINK

Apparently Kevin Drum is too stupid to understand INFLATION.

He's an old fucking man. If people that age make the same amount as HE made at that age, they are seriously getting fucked over. Kevin Drum is just too selfish an idiot to realize that or care.

Posted by: Soullite on September 24, 2007 at 9:26 AM | PERMALINK

The vast majority of people considering nonprofit jobs are choosing between the nonprofit and, say, being a tech writer or a junior account manager. The difference in salary just isn't all that huge for the vast majority of corporate jobs out there.

Speaking as a tech writer, and also someone who knows a couple people in non-profits, I can tell you there's no comparison between the salary for my job and the jobs I see advertised in the non-profit field. If you're trying to pay rent in a major city you're going to spend a hell of a long time getting any equity if you're working for non-profits. Around where I live, anywhere where there's a safe neighborhood close to public transportation, you need close to a $300k mortgage to buy a two bedroom condo.

Posted by: JJ on September 24, 2007 at 9:33 AM | PERMALINK
Apparently Kevin Drum is too stupid to understand INFLATION.

Um....he did account for inflation, guy. That's what that weird-looking phrase "adjusted for inflation" means.

Posted by: jpe on September 24, 2007 at 9:34 AM | PERMALINK

What struck me in reading The Trap was the assumption that anyone with a brain just has to, has to live in NYC or a comparably expensive city. They're "trapped" into being a soulless investment banker automaton because they could never envisage carving out a satisfying life in a Cleveland or Pittsburgh. Jeeze. It's the same feeling I get everytime I open up the New York Times and read a class consciousness raising article about how put-upon the haves feel in looking at the have-mores.

Posted by: Rick on September 24, 2007 at 9:40 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin,

Does "The Trap" account for changes in educational debt loads relative to adjusted income rates? In my experience, recent college grads have significantly higher educational debt loads than those entering the work force even just 10 years ago. Could this be a factor?

Cheers!

Posted by: Everett Volk on September 24, 2007 at 9:48 AM | PERMALINK

Reino Said:

I don't understand this post. Somebody wrote a book saying that if you want to make a salary in the top 5%, then you can't have an entry-level nonprofit job.

That's the problem with the way the book is framed. It could just as easily say: In order to raise a family in a big city, you need a job earning in the top 5%. That to me is the nut of the argument: That basic costs are so high, no amount of scrimping and saving on beans and rice is going to bring somebody in a not-for-profit job within spitting distance of a middle-class lifestyle. To my mind, it's really an argument about changing economic structure; Brook just chose to focus on the place of the well-educated rather than the working poor. Since nobody can be bothered to look at what happens to actual poor people in this country, it seems like a good strategy to me.

I'm also with Rick on the general insanity behind the perspective that one has to be in New York or San Francisco to have one of these jobs. There's lots of good not-for-profit jobs out there, and for Christ's sake, Cincinnati and Kansas City are interesting places. Honestly.

The bigger problem from the perspective of a do-gooder -- and I haven't seen this picked up in the comments -- is that plant closings and corporate consolidation around New York, LA and Chicago are draining the economies of smaller cities and cutting off lots of their foundation budgets. If you really wanted to twist the knife, you'd point out that lots of not-for-profit jobs are getting sucked out of smaller cities and into overheated metropolitan areas where the cost of living is murder. This is certainly the case in my field.

Posted by: Anonymous on September 24, 2007 at 9:59 AM | PERMALINK

It's all about the school debt. You can talk about inflation-adjusted wages all you want, but the average kid who goes to anything but the cheapest-of-cheap state universities walks away with $80k in loan debt these days for their undergrad degree. Want a law degree? That's another $100k in debt, minimum. $200k in school debt seems crazy, but it is incredibly common these days. (I know you walked to school up hill in the snow every day in bare feet, Kevin, but kids today really do have it tough in some ways, despite their cell phones and myspace pages.)

Don't get me wrong, there are arguments in favor of making the "best and brightest" pay their freight for school. They are best equipped to pay off loans, after all. But shifting the burden so completely onto students has consequences. One of the big ones: people with huge educational debts must work for high-paying corporations. There is no alternative. I know that $37k a year sounds like good money, but it loses its luster pretty quickly when you pay $1150/month to Access Group.

Posted by: owenz on September 24, 2007 at 10:14 AM | PERMALINK

these days, there is no such thing as an apartment in Astoria for $700 a month. Bushwick is more like it. (with roommates.)

entry-level jobs in most for-profit fields that only require a bachelor's are too low to live on in NY (or a couple other cities)....i.e. advertising, PR, fashion etc. that's why the kids working those jobs in NY all come from wealthy families. seriously. the real problem is for kids with M.B.A's or law degrees. they really can't afford to go to non-profits unless they have parental support.

Posted by: notes on September 24, 2007 at 10:34 AM | PERMALINK

I never said Astoria or Bed-Sty were bad places to live (although let's be honest - they ain't shangri-la), I was augmenting tristero's fine post with the info that that you probably wouldn't be living in Manhattan or Park Slope on 35k a year.

Well, you might get lucky and find a cheap place in Manhattan - know someone who can get you rent controlled? Thought not). But you are going to struggle to pay less than $1000 a month.

And just to compare and contrast with JJ's post - $350k might get you a one bedroom studio in Manhattan.

Posted by: royalblue_tom on September 24, 2007 at 10:38 AM | PERMALINK

A flipside story to the non-profit:

In 1991, when I was a student in the UK, I went to a political meeting where a young guy (a fwe years older than my then early 20s self) from one of the Labour Party's new think-tanks was speaking. I asked a few questions after his main speech, and afterwards we chatted, and he said he was impressed with my questions, and they were just getting going, and gave me his card and to give him a call.

I'd spent a year working at a non-profit, and had gotten tired of having no money (both myself and the organization.

So, I thought about calling this guy back, and concluded "ah fuck it, they've probably got no money", and so never followed up, and instead got a job as an Engineer ('cos it can pay the bills, right?)

Two months ago that former young researcher I met became Foreign Minister of the UK. And I am kicking my arse for not calling him 16 years back.

Posted by: Sock Puppet of the Great Satan on September 24, 2007 at 10:59 AM | PERMALINK

I'm in Boston, by the way. But if you go up the coast, to say, Portland, ME (where there are quite a few non-profits) it's still expensive. To get reasonably cheap urban living here in New England, I think you have to move to one of the perpetually depressed former mill towns...

Posted by: JJ on September 24, 2007 at 11:02 AM | PERMALINK

$1000 a month in Manhattan????

wtf are you talking about? that hasn't been true in years. no fricking way can you find that.

Posted by: notes on September 24, 2007 at 11:03 AM | PERMALINK

The people talking about debt are nailing a big part of the problem. University tuition has been skyrocketing. I put myself through law school at a public university and ended up with $800/mo loan payments for ten years. So, $800 before I even paid rent or bought food or work clothes or anything.

It was hard -- almost impossible -- to live on the starting salary for nonprofits and / or the attorney general's office at the time (both started at around $18,000 per year).

Now I think it's just worse. It's outrageously expensive for most people to go to college, so people start out deeply in debt. You have to view nonprofit salaries from inside a deep hole, I think, to get the same view many young people do.

Posted by: lupe on September 24, 2007 at 11:04 AM | PERMALINK

$1000 a month in Manhattan????

wtf are you talking about? that hasn't been true in years. no fricking way can you find that.

Nathan is right this time. You can't find that kind of rent in Manhattan unless you have six roommates. And a person needs health insurance, right?

Posted by: shortstop on September 24, 2007 at 11:07 AM | PERMALINK

What irks me is that people present this as an insoluble problem. It isn't. NPs need to raise more money so they can pay more money. Contributors need to understand(or be made to understand) that professionals need to earn a professional salary, even at an NP. Motivated pros will get better results than underfunded, demoralized former idealists.
Do you think lobbyists for AARP and unions make 50K a year? Yet these are clearly groups lobbying for progressive interests just as, say, Public Citizen is. I suspect the AARP lobbyists are more effective than Public Citizen, partly because they are well-funded, and their salaries are market-competitive.
I don't buy into this "money just isn't that important" BS. Look, your salary shouldn't be a "purity test".
I will be coming out of law school with a six-figure debt, PLUS a mortgage and probably one or two kids to take care of. I'd like to be a lobbyist for progressive interests. It would be nice if public interest law was a viable option. But the salaries for ATTORNEYS in that field are just insanely low. There's no way anyone middle class who graduates from a private law school with substantial debt and possibly family obligations as well, could ever work for the 30-50K typically offered. Now, does that mean they have to offer the same as corporate law? I don't think so. I do think that if they offered 2/3 of the salary offered by corporate firms, along with the law schools providing some debt forgiveness for public interest work, you could get some real top talent to gravitate there, and it would have a HUGE impact.

Posted by: mike in dc on September 24, 2007 at 11:16 AM | PERMALINK

among all comments , only Hell kitchen mentioned child-raising problems. Not only housing is a problem, but child care is sky rocketing, and the schooling in poor blue color neighborhoods is somewhat not an option anymore, just becouse of the competition for college education's scholarships (see high cost for education)

Posted by: vinnie on September 24, 2007 at 11:27 AM | PERMALINK

To get reasonably cheap urban living here in New England, I think you have to move to one of the perpetually depressed former mill towns...

And I don't think there's much interesting non-profit activity way out in Lawrence, Lowell, Lewiston, ME, etc.

Bottom line, if you want to live in a town in the northeast where there's going to be interesting non-profit activity, seems like the costs of living are going to be high.... If you want to live in non-urban areas like Vermont, western MA, etc. it may be cheaper. But then it seems like there would be a different game in those places... Those aren't urban areas and they'd be less likely to have a national focus (if that's your interest)...

Posted by: JJ on September 24, 2007 at 11:31 AM | PERMALINK

As a contract worker who has done time in many businesses and non-profit establishments, I've always been sort of surprised to find the nastiest SOBs in non-profits (art museum, PBS station, library).

Posted by: Luther on September 24, 2007 at 11:33 AM | PERMALINK

As to those "bennies" in the non-profit sector, often it is only for a very few - Have seen examples of, say, Workforce related NPs, where the organization is set up only to support the very few at the top. They have full medical, paid vacations, etc. However, they love to "employ" a staff of slightly higher than average hourly support personnel, often through temp services. Then, they use the old, "Geez, we just love your work product, and really, really, wish we could put you on full time, but..." So, the support team receive no health plans, no paid vacation. Workforce, set up after the Welfare bill in '96, simply transferred funds from the needy to a handful of bureaucrats. Just love their many seminars run in fancy resort settings, where the few can learn how to "help" the truly needy. Sort of transferred the money from the "sty" to the dining room.

Posted by: thethirdPaul on September 24, 2007 at 11:40 AM | PERMALINK

How much of the growth in "non-profit" employment might be attributed to what TBogg accurately labels "wingnut welfare"?

Posted by: Richard on September 24, 2007 at 11:42 AM | PERMALINK

Thom Hartmann had a great review of The Trap:

Brook opens the book with stories of people torn between the desire to do good (in the world) and the need to do well (financially). Several conservative reviewers have trashed the book on this basis, suggesting one shouldn't empathize with people who are experiencing existential angst over making $150,000 a year in a corporate law firm instead of working for Public Citizen, but apparently none of those reviewers bothered to read beyond the first two pages. With devastating precision, Brook shows how the basic necessaries of health care, housing, and providing for a safe retirement require a startlingly high income (particularly for people who live in our big cities)
The Trap

Posted by: beowulf on September 24, 2007 at 12:02 PM | PERMALINK

You didn't come out of college $60,000 in debt! Public school students have massive debts now too. There's no escaping it.

Posted by: chris on September 24, 2007 at 12:13 PM | PERMALINK

I've known a ton of people who have worked non-profit/public interest jobs, even in Manhattan, and I can't recall a single one of them that was living in Manhattan at the time.

Posted by: Swan on September 24, 2007 at 12:20 PM | PERMALINK

I haven't read the book, so I don't know what all is in there and what other arguments have been made that Kevin doesn't address in his post, but it seems to me that a comparison of what level debt today's college grads carry with them to their first job, compared to those in prior decades, would be appropriate. I left school with a JD degree in 1986 (17 years after I started college...but that's another story) and just about 10K in student loans to pay off. I was considered one of the lucky ones. I actually managed to pay for my school on my own over the years and only had the debt because I used a student loan to get into the housing market in 1982. Most of my fellow law school grads were carrying four and five times the debt I was. When I looked at jobs in the non-profit sector they were all paying well under 20K and required me to live in cities like New York and Washington (not noted for their low cost of living). I had a 9 month old son, so it was a no-go.

While the nonprofit sector doesn't seem to be hurting for bright young people to staff their positions, maybe they aren't getting the best and brightest, as they once did. I would suggest that direct federal student loans, that could be forgiven if the student opts for a 2 year hitch with a nonprofit or other low paying public service job, would go a long way to getting more of the best and the brightest to opt for some nonprofit experience. Universal health insurance (single payer preferably) would also go a long way in that direction.

It isn't low pay that keeps people from taking those jobs, it is a combination of lower pay and lesser benefits than they could get elsewhere along with higher debt and higher cost of living.

Posted by: majun on September 24, 2007 at 12:22 PM | PERMALINK

I'm a non-profit professional in Boston, myself. I was making $30K when I turned 27, though to be fair I was up to $36K by 28 thanks to a promotion. Did I get by? Sure. I paid my rent, enjoyed some hobbies, and didn't put myself in debt. I also didn't save anything. Just getting that raise was enough to allow me to start saving some money. Student loan debt is a big part of it. I had been paying almost as much in student loans that I was in rent in a fairly expensive rental market. I can see why some NP workers feel like they have to switch the for profit world. The real challenge is that the corporate world doesn't have a lot of respect for NP workers. Even as NP have become far more corporatized in their business practices, the "for profit" world still has little regard for professional experience at NPs. Approaching 30, I'm seeing my window to switch rapidly closing and that's absolutely part of the dynamic, too.

Another problem is that NP workers are routinely disrespected by our funders. We're expected to work for nothing, but we're also expected to produce more, work longer, do more. There is this constant tug of being asked to more for less. Salaries are often seen as the lowest of priorities, which is a major disconnect with the corporatizing of the workplace as well as with the competitiveness of the market given how many NP employees leave the field. Invariably it costs more to replace an employee who leaves, yet its never considered to simply compensate an employee before they leave. NP workers are willing to take less pay for the work we do, but often the problem is that this willingness is taken advantage of and/or taken for granted. I think Mike in dc's suggestion of 2/3 corporate market salary is a pretty good one. The problem right now is that a lot of people are making half or less. Donors need to understand that a strong professional staff is worth the investment and that no one is saying pay NP workers what you'd pay FP workers. How to communicate that is the tricky thing because few organizations are prepared or willing to communicate that message.

Posted by: BStu on September 24, 2007 at 12:23 PM | PERMALINK

"I would suggest that direct federal student loans, that could be forgiven if the student opts for a 2 year hitch with a nonprofit or other low paying public service job, would go a long way to getting more of the best and the brightest to opt for some nonprofit experience."

these of course exist (to varying degrees)...the problem is the amounts. 20-30K in loans isn't stopping anyone from a career. its 120-200K.

Posted by: j on September 24, 2007 at 12:23 PM | PERMALINK

I think some of the comments about law school debt and other costs are a little exagerrated, too. It's perfectly possible to get out of law school with over $100,000 debt, but it's also possible and not too unlikely to get out of there with under $100,000 debt, too. I went to Rutgers Law which is public-interesty and isn't a bad school, and my debt is under $100,000. Also the comments counting up other costs: it's all easy to say mortgage, insurance, car payments, kids, etc., but who really has all these expenses? People are marrying later and later, having kids later and later. So you get some costs besides your school debt (if it's substantial), your rent (if you don't have something worked out with that so it's not so much), and your food, but who really enters the workforce with mortgage payments or condo payments, AND car payments, AND more than one kid to pay for? It's not really a whole lot of people.

Posted by: Swan on September 24, 2007 at 12:26 PM | PERMALINK

And I don't think there's much interesting non-profit activity way out in Lawrence, Lowell, Lewiston, ME, etc.

Spoken just like someone who's never been west of the Alleghenies.

Bottom line, if you want to live in a town in the northeast where there's going to be interesting non-profit activity, seems like the costs of living are going to be high....

Did you know that Chicago, with its fairly reasonable living costs for a major city, is the association capital of the U.S.? I'm guessing you didn't. And there is quite a bit of "interesting non-profit activity" in non-urban areas outside the eastern seaboard, too. Hard to believe, but true.

Posted by: shortstop on September 24, 2007 at 12:33 PM | PERMALINK

Actually, Swan, the average law school debt now is $90,000, so $100,000 isn't much of an "exaggeration." Most law students are also carrying undergraduate debt as well.

Posted by: shortstop on September 24, 2007 at 12:37 PM | PERMALINK

Debt.

Most people come out of UNDERGRAD with $35-50,000 in debt. How much debt did YOU come out of college with? My girlfriend graduated from the same college her father did 35 years ago. The cost of individual credit hours to the student had increased some 1400% in that time frame.

I never got a "graduation" gift from my parents when I finished undergrad--that is, not a new car, or tv or even a $100. Their gift to me was through my own hard work and saving and with their help I got out of undergrad with no debt.

None.

And that's makes me 1 in a million. Literally.

Posted by: MNPundit on September 24, 2007 at 12:46 PM | PERMALINK

I've been to plenty of places west. I was just giving an account of things here from the northeast. If you don't have roots here, sure, sounds like Chicago might be a better deal.

Posted by: JJ on September 24, 2007 at 12:48 PM | PERMALINK

Addressing the law school question: I will have at the most, $65,000 of debt after I get done with law school and while I'm not going to Harvard, it's a decent Tier 3 school.

Posted by: MNPundit on September 24, 2007 at 12:49 PM | PERMALINK

With all due respect (and I haven't read the article) I can attest to the fact that $27,000 is nothing if you live in Washington, DC and I can't even imagine living in NYC on that salary.

Perhaps you're discounting the student loan variable in your gloss. I'll break it down for you.

$27,000 * .7 (tax average) / 12 months = $1575 per
Average studio in a non crime area of DC (as of 03) = $900
Student loan per month (personal data) = $250

That´s $425/month without bills, food, or transport.

And this doesn't even mention the fact that it's impossible to save, go on vacation, or really do anything else.

I've never worked at a non-profit, even though I desired to, namely because I wasn't willing to jeopardize my safety by living in a less costly area (which is really the only way to make this doable).

Plus, the key to the income ladder has always been property ownership. The non-profit world is creating a whole class of people that are lifetime renters, money that they are throwing away and will never generate personal value. The sacrifices that people speak of are not just during your 20´s - they affect your entire life because you'll always be behind the earning curve and you'll never save enough.

Some people are willing to make that sacrifice. In hindsight, maybe I should have sucked it up for a year or two and done the same. But whatever you do, don't look down your nose at those who decide that even though the non-profit world is where their heart is, it just doesn't make financial sense to make that type of sacrifice.

Posted by: SJH on September 24, 2007 at 12:49 PM | PERMALINK

Tangentially related the the cost of living issues--

Registered Nurses (RN's) work in a very fluid market. Any RN who works in NYC could also find a job in Cowtown (and vice-versa). For some reason, both locations pay $60k per year + benefits. So, if you're a nurse in Brooklyn, you get by ok. But if you're a nurse in Cowtown, then you're wealthy.

And that's with an associates degree from a community college. ($8000 of debt).

Posted by: absent observer on September 24, 2007 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

Actually, Swan, the average law school debt now is $90,000, so $100,000 isn't much of an "exaggeration." Most law students are also carrying undergraduate debt as well.

Yeah, it's $10,000 above average. I wrote that some of these comments exagerrated "a little." The comment above somebody else wrote about $100,000 law school debt said there was "no way" you could graduate law school with less than $100,000 debt. That's definitely an exagerration if the average is $90,000, so I was being soft on him by calling that exagerating a little.

Posted by: Swan on September 24, 2007 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK

Posted by: Tom Veil on September 24, 2007 at 12:55 PM | PERMALINK

And shortstop, Chicago is not that inexpensive compared to the average northeastern city. Housing is about 20% less. $800 rent as opposed to $1000 in Boston. It's a difference, but is it a huge one?

Posted by: JJ on September 24, 2007 at 1:10 PM | PERMALINK

**

Posted by: mhr on September 24, 2007 at 1:15 PM | PERMALINK

JJ, my point was less about cost of living, although that is a not-insignificant factor (and the reason I specifically added non-urban areas to my comment), than it was about your rather insular implication that all national or interesting non-profit activity is happening in the northeast. It isn't.

Posted by: shortstop on September 24, 2007 at 1:24 PM | PERMALINK

You know what, JJ; I just reread your original string of comments and you were indeed focusing on the problem from the perspective of someone who wants to work and live in the northeast, not arguing that significant NP activity doesn't exist outside of the east. I have wronged you--my apologies.

Posted by: shortstop on September 24, 2007 at 1:31 PM | PERMALINK

Being in NYC, I've seen a lot of people working non-profit for several years who haven't made it to $35k a year.

Me too.

But the bosses make out well: 80 - 120k. And non-profit is often 9-5.

There's a lot of snobbery and racism in non-profit, arts non-profits anyway.

Posted by: Horatio Parker on September 24, 2007 at 1:34 PM | PERMALINK

the first chink in my liberal armor came back in the '80's when Alan Simpson pointed out the head of the Diabled American Veteran's organization made over $800,000 per year... I think the term not-for-profit corporation ought to be put on the oxymoron list like married bachelor or military intelligence. And don't get me started on the perks and lack of accountablility in the labor union bureaucracy -- there's a reason GM workers cost about $30 per hour more than US based Toyota workers, and it doesn't end up in the workers paychecks either.

Posted by: minion on September 24, 2007 at 1:35 PM | PERMALINK

Didn't mean to imply that at all. As a matter of fact, sounds like people should try to find less expensive places to build non-profits. If the cost of living completely sucks even in Brooklyn, etc. maybe there are some greener pastures...

I can't claim that much detailed knowledge about the non-profit world, BTW, I just happen know some people who work in it. And I live in an area that fits the bill of lots of non-profits and not much affordable housing lately...

Posted by: JJ on September 24, 2007 at 1:36 PM | PERMALINK

And to the New Yorker complaining about the horror of living in Astoria or Bed-Stuy...why would anyone think that someone working for a non-profit should live in a neighborhood priced for the rich? Neither Astoria nor Bed-Stuy are bad places to live (and there are a lot of non-profit employees scattered around other decent outer-borough neighborhoods, such as Prospect Heights), and they both have access to decent public transportation.

But that's the problem, thinking of Manhattan as a neighborhood "priced for the rich." Until this generation that wasn't so -- it was certainly possible, and indeed quite common, to live in Manhattan at a middle or lower-class salary. Back in the 70s and 80s, for example, you could live quite comfortably in Manhattan as a book editor, artist, etc. which resulted in a quite-healthy diversity of income levels and types. It's only in the last twenty years that all these people, who did so much to make Manhattan the glorious cultural mecca that it was, have been pushed out by economics, resulting in the island becoming an ever more sterile neighborhood of bankers and lawyers.

Posted by: Stefan on September 24, 2007 at 1:46 PM | PERMALINK

I have wronged you--my apologies.

--Nah. No biggie.

Posted by: JJ on September 24, 2007 at 1:48 PM | PERMALINK

the first chink in my liberal armor came back in the '80's when Alan Simpson pointed out the head of the Diabled American Veteran's organization made over $800,000 per year... etc.

Thank god that vets' org ED gave you all the rationale you needed to write off the entire spectrum of non-profit activity, minion! Why, a less perspicacious fellow might have waited for additional evidence that there is nothing virtuous to be found in service to others! But you're so on the ball you not only used this information to happily write off all public-service, charity and altruistic endeavors, you were also able to apply it to liberalism in general. Woo hoo!

P.S. Extra points for your attempt to wedge your standard complaints about labor unions (!) into a discussion of non-profits. That's some worthy gymnastic activity for a grizzled old former hippie like you.

Posted by: shortstop on September 24, 2007 at 1:49 PM | PERMALINK

And don't get me started on the perks and lack of accountablility in the labor union bureaucracy -- there's a reason GM workers cost about $30 per hour more than US based Toyota workers, and it doesn't end up in the workers paychecks either.

Yes, it's because Japan has a national universal health-care and a national pension system, whereas GM has to provide its workers healthcare and pension benefits coverage out of its own pocket. Minion has made a very good argument for increasing the government-mandated social safety net in the US.

Posted by: Stefan on September 24, 2007 at 1:53 PM | PERMALINK

JJ: As a matter of fact, sounds like people should try to find less expensive places to build non-profits. If the cost of living completely sucks even in Brooklyn, etc. maybe there are some greener pastures...

Well, that was the thinking behind a lot of national orgs moving to Chicago in the 1970s and 1980s and beyond: that you could perch your association here for substantially less than in NY, but still be in a metro area big enough to attract a broad range of of employee talent (and with great air connections to everywhere). Chicago hasn't suffered from a housing bubble as big as those on the east coast, but it is becoming expensive enough that the next wave of national association headquarters may well go somewhere else.

And thank you for being so gracious.

Posted by: shortstop on September 24, 2007 at 1:55 PM | PERMALINK

$35,000 in NYC is really difficult; in fact, that was my non-profit salary there, so I know. I recently abandoned New York for Portland, Oregon, and I left behind a modest 1 br apartment in Washington Heights that I'd had for 11 years; the rent was just over $1,000/month. Now, after taxes, my take-home pay was about $25,000, which meant that dang close to half my salary went to rent for an apartment with zero amenities in a non-fabulous neighborhood an hour from my job. And everyone I spoke to marveled at how "cheap" my apartment was. Though I conserved as much as possible, my monthly utilities for gas and electric were around $70/month. I also have about $45,000 in outstanding student loan debt. (Love 'ya, SallieMae, you're a peach.) That doesn't leave very much else -- especially in NYC -- for food, clothes and leisure, and there certainly was not a significant amount available to invest for retirement. I am a pretty modest guy with relatively simple tastes; I like Old Navy and IKEA; most of my furniture came off the sidewalk. Even so, I found it a tough life.

Posted by: Andy on September 24, 2007 at 2:37 PM | PERMALINK

I know two people who work for an NGO in North Carolina, one with a masters degree. One has five years experience, the other 8 or so. They are both multilingual and are paid more because of it. They make 30k and 40k, respectively. The later salary is for a very senior position, one of the top few at the organization which I believe has 50-100 US employees and probably double that worldwide. They get 20 days vacation. Their health benefits are good (it's a health policy NGO). Their retirement package is non-existent. There are no bonuses. There are no stock options. There is even less job security than in the modern corporate workforce.

Posted by: jefff on September 24, 2007 at 2:46 PM | PERMALINK

Amen to what Kevin says.

Non-profits are by design supported by donor dollars and in any number of cases at least some of those dollars come from working people. If you're going to get my money to help alleviate poverty in the developing world that money should be going to help people in need; a middle class life is not an entitlement anywhere, including America.

Lots and lots of people do valuable activist and humanitarian work in their spare time for nothing or next to nothing. And as Kevin suggests lots of people do meaningful, creative, and rewarding work in the private sector.

Posted by: Linus on September 24, 2007 at 3:46 PM | PERMALINK

Oh jeez, I thought you were discussing The BBC documentary "The Trap."

Maybe someday you will. It's worth it.


Posted by: Joey Giraud on September 24, 2007 at 4:02 PM | PERMALINK

No one is suggesting that non-profit workers should be millionares, Linus. See this is the problem. Ask for just enough money to continue committing your life to a cause, and you are met with accusations of greed. I don't expect to have the nicest apartment in the most expensive neighborhood. I've never had an apartment of my own because I do non-profit work. I've always shared with SO's or had roommates. I've spent most of the last 8 years living outside the city I work and commuting in by train. I'm okay with all of that.

But I do wonder about starting a family. I couldn't contribute a fair amount to my household making what I make now at almost 30. I'm happy with my life and what I can save and buy, but I also know that I don't have much overhead right now and I'm admittedly well compensated in the field. I don't want $100K a year, but I'd like to be able to start a family if I wanted to. I'd like to own a home. Right now, with student loan debt and a NP salary, but are really out of reach for the foreseeable future. I love what I do and I don't pretend that what I do is morally superior to for profit work. So why is it morally inferior of me to want even 2/3 of fair compensation for what I do?

When you have a qualified, committed, and deligant staff you can do more. This is an investment many corporations know to make, but I fear its one many NP's don't. A good staff can get more done, raise more money, built more awareness and still at a fraction of what it'd cost in the private sector. I'll agree that it sounds like this book badly overstates its point, but that doesn't mean that there aren't ways NP's can better attract and maintain high-quality talent. You're always going to make less working in the NP field, but that doesn't mean NP workers should be taken for granted or treated like inconsequential parts of the organizations they work for. More than anything, its being treated like you don't matter that pushes NP workers away from this work.

Posted by: BStu on September 24, 2007 at 4:15 PM | PERMALINK

Stefan,

If you read my post I said US based Toyota workers. I have consistently supported universal health care in my comments here, that is a nonissue... my point was that corporate greed is even more obnoxious when persued under the "not-for-profit" banner. Do you honestly think a middle level flunky at NPR should make over $500K from the pledge drive? And a lot of union bosses are worse than John Edwards in their gluttony, I think those issues are very related.

Posted by: minion on September 24, 2007 at 4:16 PM | PERMALINK

a middle class life is not an entitlement anywhere, including America.

I think NP orgs should provide their workers with cozy-shacks in the Caymans and similar caribbean getaways to vacation at.

If you think about it, divide the cost by 52 weekends a year, it's not that much for a lot of people to get a chance to use it.

In an ideal world, a lot of celebrities would donate cottages like this to NPs, instead of spending so much on their giant fucking mansions.

Posted by: Swan on September 24, 2007 at 4:28 PM | PERMALINK

I think I'm going to start my own NP, that gets superstar celebrities to donate cozy-shacks to other NPs.

Anyone want a job?

Posted by: Swan on September 24, 2007 at 4:36 PM | PERMALINK

swan: "If you think about it..."

we'll let you know if we ever want to do that. meanwhile..."cozy shack" isn't hyphenated.

Posted by: bored masses on September 24, 2007 at 4:42 PM | PERMALINK

Time-shares have already been invented, you moron.

Posted by: Volatile Compound on September 24, 2007 at 4:50 PM | PERMALINK

bored masses, a cozy-shack is a house that's cozy or that you cozy up in. A cozy shack might just mean a literally stapled-together panels of aluminum shack, that is, uh, cozy.

Anyway--

The celebrities could pay for half the rent or condo payments in advance. Then the org workes could take on the rest of the payments, like a co-op. So it's cheap if your org is 52 workers, or even if you have 104 workers, or team up with a similarly-sized org to rent it, it's still a good deal if you just get to go there once every other year.

It could just be a place on the Jersey shore, or one of those places farther south where kids go for spring break, even. The orgs could even put all thir houses in the same town, in the same area, and make it a "hippy strip" where all the NYC non-profit folk go when the scene in New York is beat. Somebody could even donate a collective yacht, the "Magical Mystery Tour," and you all could take it out on trippy hippy holdiay cruises.

Posted by: Swan on September 24, 2007 at 4:55 PM | PERMALINK

VT, you're pretty rude. Yeah, I and everyone else have already heard of time shares. I think the point is making it possible for NP folks.

Posted by: Swan on September 24, 2007 at 4:56 PM | PERMALINK

I can be rude at times. But at least I am not a blithering fucking idiot. You have that all locked up.

Frankly, your incessant and inane ramblings make the comment threads unreadable.

Posted by: Volatile Compound on September 24, 2007 at 5:16 PM | PERMALINK

did I not just say this?

we'll let you know if we ever want to [think about your idea]."

don't call us. we'll call you.

Posted by: bored masses on September 24, 2007 at 5:25 PM | PERMALINK

But at least I am not a blithering fucking idiot.

VC, on the contrary, you are indeed (as is bored masses) a blithering fucking idiot. I am, on the other hand, not an idiot.

Posted by: Swan on September 24, 2007 at 5:40 PM | PERMALINK

he sure told us, volatile! bow before the searing brilliance of that wit. bow down.

Posted by: bored masses on September 24, 2007 at 5:45 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, you're being spectacularly dense. I haven't read the book, so I can't endorse it, but you're missing several points.

1. You should be ashamed of yourself for saying "If NPOs are really so bad, why are there so many of them and why do so many people work for them?"

The answer to the first question is "Because the constant cutting of government, coupled with the belief that governments are always inefficient, led them to dump functions onto NPOs."

It's costly to have government workers, who are union members and get regular pay raises and government health care, performing services. It is much cheaper for government to put functions-- job training, welfare casework, ESL programs, to name three-- up for bid.

Not only does the winning non-profit have to figure out how to provide the service and pay salaries and benefits, but the government entity can talk about how it "gains efficiency by partnering".

The second answer-- why people take these jobs-- is even easier. In case you missed the stories, there aren't a lot of great jobs out there.

2. A huge difference between Young Kevin Drum in 1985 and Young NPO Idealist in 2007 is that income inequality has skyrocketed, which drives marketing decisions, cost of goods and cost of living.

When you were 27, you probably made a salary comparable to many of your friends. You could afford most of the same things they could-- and because you guys were the majority of the buyers, companies manufactured products for you.

Yes, there were 27-year-olds who could buy a BMW while you made do with (say) a five-year-old Honda, but there weren't many of them.

Today, after 22 years of Reagan, Clinton and two Bushes, we have a bunch of rich people, who can afford to pay $$$$ for housing, transportation, food and consumer goods. And those are the people businesses target now.

Buying a five-year-old car with a good repair record now costs $13,000-- 50% of that $27 K income. Buying a comparable model in 1985 would have cost you a much smaller slice because that car was smaller and had fewer luxuries.

Have you tried to buy a 2-door car that isn't a sports car lately? Go to the EPA site and look for "subcompacts". You'll find about 50 models for 2008-- many by Audi, Volvo, Mercedes and Accura. The EPA considers the Corolla and Camry to be subcompacts, for God's sake. That's a bit of a ways from the Chevette or Fiat in my youth.

It's hard to find a modest apartment now, because property owners do better turning modest units into high-end ones. It's hard to find a 20" TV, or a cell phone that doesn't play music, take pictures and surf the net.

It's amazing that you posted this essay two days after grumbling about how "they don't make good products now." They don't do it now because there's less of an audience for it-- better to target rich folks who don't want to keep anything for 20 years.

3. The big problem with NPO life (which the review does a bad job of stating) is the near-immediate realization that you're trapped.

However difficult you might have found things at 27, you had the knowledge that things would get better, because you could eventually make money, either by being promoted, getting raises or changing jobs. Salary growth in NPOs is nearly nil, because none of those options exist.

Promotions? The org chart is nearly flat. There's a director, one manager for each department/project and then a bunch of people all doing more or less the same job.

When you were working as a tech writer, you could hope to be promoted (depending on the size of the company) to senior writer, team lead, manager and maybe director-- all without getting into the boardroom.

If you were battling sex trafficking, you'd have two chances to advance-- replace your boss and replace the director. And if there are six people all doing the same job, five know they'll lose.

You also had the option of a lateral move-- to go (as you did) into marketing. Unless you're at a huge NPO, that's not possible-- everything but operations is considered a "necessary evil", to be staffed and funded as poorly as possible, to keep as much money as possible for operations.

Instead of a Marketing Department, there's a contractor-- or one person doing four jobs (writing grants, brochures, the annual report and the web site). Or maybe the director and the manager do it. Or maybe it just doesn't get done.

Another way to get more money in the for-profit world is internal growth. I have friends who took low-paying jobs that became high-paying jobs as the company went from grossing $80,000 (in the founder's garage) to $80 million (in their own building).

Not only did they get merit raises and "thank-you" raises-- and the raises that come from going from being one-man departments to managers-- but the company gave them raises to retain them.

If you're depending on grants, donations and projects, as NPOs do, that can't happen. NPOs grow their budgets not by improving operating revenue, but by taking on new projects that can be funded.

Employees get cost of living increases and no more. Your big chance to make money is to help get a grant in an area of interest and go from a grunt on one project to manager of your own.

"Retention" is unheard-of in NPO-land, because employees can't go anywhere.

You could go from marketing imaging equipment to almost anything. But you can't hop from sex trafficking to health care policy. An NPO won't pay three months salary while you learn your new job (Many most for-profits won't do it, either), and having someone with no experience in the area looks bad on a grant request.

So unless you can find a larger NPO that does the same thing-- or agrees that(say) tracking sex workers and can also help you study illegal immigration-- you're stuck.

And, while some NPO's do try to help you get more job satisfaction, a lot of them don't. That nagging concern about the bottom line makes many of them not that concerned that Mr. Senior Analyst (who's an asset, but, after 12 years of COLAs, makes 60% more than Ms. Promoted-From-Intern) will jump ship.

So, since you can't get promoted and can't get raises, you must maintain the same lifestyle.

Plus, you're at risk to the degree that your benefits are bad. At 27, a 70-30 split on health care doesn't seem that onerous. At 37, after your Dad has a heart attack-- and your Doctor looks at your CRP results and winces-- and the major change in your HMO is that you're paying twice as much copay for visits and prescriptions-- life gets scary.

I spent some of my 20's with an NPO-- I quit after my second review. When my boss said "You don't seem to be progressing as an employee" and I said "What else is there for me to do?", I got out.

I feel bad that I don't make much of a contribution to society-- but when I look at the people I left, I feel happy I cut and ran. Except for the ones who married well, they mostly don't own houses or have kids or get to enjoy life.

I don't have a clever solution-- just a nagging feeling that contributing to society (like serving in the military) shouldn't entail a vow of poverty. But I seem to be one-up on you, in recognizing that this is not a desirable thing.

Posted by: Woody Goode on September 24, 2007 at 5:48 PM | PERMALINK

I guess so! Gosh!

He claims he isn't an idiot, but this is in spite of a trove of evidence to the contrary! (Pick a thread! Any thread! Swan droppings will foul the thread!)

I guess in the bird-brains pov, since I find his moronic ravings trifling and pedestrian and unreadable, I must be an idiot! What a hoot!

Posted by: Volatile Compound on September 24, 2007 at 5:53 PM | PERMALINK

Volatile Compound,

Wish I had more time to fully appreciate your post, but, ever since rick mick turned me on to Thomas Pynchon books........

Where is Norman Rogers when you really need him?

Posted by: thethirdPaul on September 24, 2007 at 6:25 PM | PERMALINK

Paul, Normie was last spotted in the gardeners cottage eating masa harina - prepared the old fashioned way.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on September 24, 2007 at 6:42 PM | PERMALINK

As long as he stays out of the potting shed - at least the Agatha Cristie kind. One for the pot, one for the cook, doesn't work as well for the gardener.

Posted by: thethirdPaul on September 24, 2007 at 7:00 PM | PERMALINK

VC, bm- Ha ha! I know! You guys are so fucking stupid!

Posted by: Swan on September 24, 2007 at 8:48 PM | PERMALINK

Well Junior, you are the one asserting facts not in evidence.

Whereas, we can point to virtually any thread as evidence that you are just about the goofiest mother fucker posting in this forum.

I pity your future clients.

See ya. Wouldn't wanna be ya. (And I truly mean that!)

Posted by: Volatile Compound on September 24, 2007 at 8:56 PM | PERMALINK

Well, I had 20 minutes, so I searched the archives. If anyone doubts that the charge I made against Swan, i.e., that he is a total fucking moron, you need only look at the archives. I have some threads and dates. (I would post permalinks if not for the spam filter...)

Anyway, I have evidence to back up my assertion that Swan is a nimrod, a nuisance and an annoyance.

Science, July 29

Progressives, July 28

Scott Thomas, July 26

Crosswords, July 15

Appeals Court Rejects Warrantless Search Case, July 6

Is Our President Reading, July 3

The Right's MoveOn.org, June 29 (He shows some real fine stooooopid in this one)

Getting to know you, June 27

The Political Brain, June 27

Iran Update, June 26

Today's Forcast: Global Warming Doesn't Exist Because I Say So, June 25

Stuck In the Middle With You, June 22

More Sicko, June 22

Commander in Chief, June 21

Posted by: Volatile Compound on September 25, 2007 at 4:09 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

Read Jonathan Rowe remembrance and articles
Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

Advertise in WM



buy from Amazon and
support the Monthly