Editor's Page: Touchy Subject

Our first salary survey in five years hit nerves all over the city.
Photo by: Linny Morris

To those of you who did not hang up on assistant editor Tiffany Hill as she researched our salary survey—thank you!

OK, most sources were at least grudgingly helpful and the actual hang-ups few and far between. Still, it’s been five years since our last salary survey. Times are harder, and the recession has our sources feeling extra sensitive about the subject of salaries. For example, certain spokespeople for organizations that include some high-paying jobs specifically worried that, in a recession, “we’re going to get calls from people angry that some people here are making so much money.”

Says Hill, even companies that had been featured in the past wanted to know “who else we were including, why we were doing this and why we wanted to include them.”

Good questions. What did we include? As many jobs as we could find. Why were we interested in any given salary? To give our readers as wide a range of salaries as possible, in as many occupations as possible.

Why do the survey at all? It’s fascinating. First, there’s the outright voyeurism of it. Because people don’t talk about their salaries, they become a secret everyone wants to know. Then there’s the socioeconomic dimension, finding out how well we reward different lines of work.
We tried to be as gentle as possible. A lot of city magazines do salary surveys filled with headshots of real people, with names, hometowns and salaries to the penny. That didn’t seem like the way to go in Honolulu. The only people we identify by name are those whose salaries are public information, such as government workers and leaders of publicly held companies or nonprofits that benefit from tax exemptions. Otherwise, we stuck with anonymous job titles and salary ranges.
Our worth as people is not defined by our salaries, even if our lifestyles are. It’s easy to forget that during a recession, when people face very real fears about making ends meet, about their ability to contribute financially to their families.
In economies good and bad, I’ve seen people take pay cuts to pursue work they found more rewarding; or go back to school to train for professions with bigger checks. I’ve seen people reject promotions that would’ve paid better but taken them away from work they love; and
I’ve seen people pursue one job change after another, always chasing a higher salary.
It’s easy to resent people who earn more than we do. I used to, when I was younger. I’ve let go of that. Through the magazine, I’ve been fortunate enough to peek behind the scenes of a wide range of jobs, including some that pay quite well and I’ve figured out something about big salaries. “Fun” is rarely part of the position description. Neither are “weekends off.” Take hospital administrator, for example. We found a salary range of $434,000 to $802,000.

Sounds like a lot of money. Would I give up what I do now to spend my days swimming in a sea of federal, state and local regulations, union negotiations, complex insurance reimbursement regimes and the ever-present threat of malpractice lawsuits? Not for any price!
While some of us make more than others, there’s good chance we all have something in common: We pay for our choice to live in the Islands. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Hawaii’s average weekly wage as of 2007, the most available recent figure, was $720, or $37,440 a year. That’s more than 18 percent below the national average weekly wage of $853, or $44,356 a year. So, to those of you who didn’t hang up on our reporter and whose salaries we included, I can also say this:
You deserve a raise.

For more of Napier’s writing, see his “Off My Desk” blog.