Monday, July 4, 2011

It's a rich man's world

OK, I should totally be asleep but the Times is making me angry. Seriously, in two days we have articles about how downtown Detroit is a great place for young [mostly white] people to move into "cheap" real estate (at $900/month) and then about how NY judges are leaving the bench to become law firm partners because their six-figure salaries are just too low to support their summer homes in the Hamptons?

Let me inject just a little bit of perspective here. According to the Census Bureau, the median income in the United States in 2005, the year in which trial judges' median salary was $116,100, was $24,325. Since we're talking about New York, let's get some region-specific numbers. For the Northeast, median income was higher than the national median—$25,447. That means that trial judges, whose stagnant pay is "the single most important problem for our courts" according to the very fancy retired law professor quoted in the article, made more than four times the highest regional median salary at the end of their incredibly stagnant decade.

Now, I'm not saying judges shouldn't get paid. Maybe they should even be paid four times the national median salary; I don't claim to know what the pay level of a judge should be or even how that should be set. What I am saying is that an article in the nation's preeminent newspaper (and don't pretend any other paper has even a fair shot at unseating the Times any time soon) that is bemoaning the poor economic health of a profession that makes four times the average salary in the richest part of the country is an article that clearly demonstrates how completely out of touch with the vast majority of people our national news media is. Or are; it depends on whether you think of media as monolithic or actually varied and multiple.

By the way, if you make $25,998 per year (the 2009 Midwest median salary, most recent data I could find) and spend $10,800 of that on rent for your "cheap" apartment in downtown Detroit, that leaves you $15,198 for food, clothing, utilities, and anything else you might want, like attending fancy rooftop parties covered by New York Times reporters and going to the trendy bars and restaurants they describe in their ensuing articles. Assuming you don't have anyone else you might need to use that money to help, like an unemployed relative or partner—Detroit proper had a 20% unemployment rate in May of this year.

It is too late and I am too tired for this post to come to any coherent conclusion. Just think about the fact that like me, you, if you are reading this, are more than likely far wealthier than the average US citizen in assets you can access (i.e. your own or your parents' or a generous relative's), and that we have a responsibility to recognize that vast economic privilege and do more about it than feel smug or guilty.


Kate said...

Wow. That Detroit article... just... wow. I mean, I suppose if we had found a place to live in downtown Cleveland, I would have been party to a similar phenomenon (though I'm interested to find that I currently sit just below the national income average, I think culturally, I probably count). But still. If Cleveland rents are any indication, $900 is not a cheap place in Detroit. And replacing a poor, minority population with a rich, white one, while not necessarily the fault of the population coming in, is a pretty racist/classist thing to celebrate.

kim23 said...

Life in New York is very expensive and that's why more and more judges leave the bench. They prefer to become law firm partners because they are better paid. This is the case of judge Elizabeth Klee and other New York judges as well.