Who Earns More: Professor or Fry Cook?
Fun article by a history professor who realized that it took him 25 years to finally make more than he would have made at McDonalds.
...I’m a tenured professor of history of science and mathematics at the University of Texas at Austin. I finished high school 25 years ago. What if instead of attending college I had worked at McDonald’s?
The company brags about opportunities for promotion. Many managers started as cashiers. So suppose I worked five years as a cashier, five as shift manager, 10 as assistant manager, and, after a total of 20 years, became a manager.
In 1988 a cashier earning federal minimum wage, $3.35, working 40-hour weeks, earned $6,968—just above the poverty level. Suppose I got a raise of 10 cents hourly each year, except when minimum wage increased. I’d earn just $39,936 in five years as a cashier.
Those are gross figures, unadjusted for inflation. You can make different assumptions, but consider this simple scenario.
Promoted to shift manager, I’d earn $59,984 over five years. Next, as assistant manager’s earnings would still be low: just $22,672 in 2003, when the National Average Wage Index was $34,065. Working 10 long years as an assistant manager, I’d earn $225,888. With minimal raises, as restaurant manager I’d gross $227,517 in five years.
McDonald’s gives some employee benefits. One meal per shift, say, 250 meals per year, amounts to $28,125 in 25 years.
Total: $581,450, before deductions for Social Security, Medicare, income taxes, and so on.
What about my real earnings?
As a student and postdoc, I worked several jobs: in computer graphics, tutoring Spanish, residence-hall staff, assistant at a labor library, waiter in two restaurants, editor, and washing dishes at a co-op. In those part-time jobs, I grossed $54,714, counting housing and meals at dorms and the co-op. Plus, I was a teaching assistant in seven courses, grossing $23,333.
I was a postdoc at the Smithsonian, MIT, Harvard, Boston University, and Caltech. My fellowships totaled $171,555, including funds later from the University of Texas.
I taught at Caltech followed by eight years at UT: instructor, lecturer, assistant professor and associate professor, grossing $420,786. Plus payments for talks, television appearances, book reviews: $7,290. I published four books and a teaching manual: $24,324 in royalties.
The running total is $702,002. I also received scholarships from the University of Puerto Rico, Vassar College, New York University, and the University of Minnesota, totaling $51,235—all put toward tuition bills. But the total costs of tuition were $68,221, so subtract the difference. Or subtract my student loans: $45,000 during two years at NYU. And 10 and a half years in Puerto Rico, New York, and Minnesota, all requiring tuition, university fees, books, supplies, computers, printing fees: about $2,500 per year, so subtract $26,250. Also, I moved to distant cities to continue as student and postdoc; roughly $1,300, seven times.
My total gross: $621,652. That’s it—25 years in universities, including nine part-time jobs. Annual average gross income: $24,866.
McDonald’s suggests that employees find a second job.
Since I did not take that into account, we should not count my income from jobs that were outside of universities. If so, my academic earnings were $609,413.
Compare that with $581,450 at McDonald’s.
Predictably, I earned more as a professor than I might have made as an employee at McDonald’s. What is really surprising is that it took me 25 years to do so....