Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Paying Salaries Based on Need

An interesting letter in this week's Yated:

Dear Editor,

I would like to raise an issue that has been bothering me for a few years.

I am a one-man-band in a large Jewish community. Having a wife and children, this is a good way to support myself by doing something that I enjoy. When I was a bochur, I began accepting jobs. Sometimes, when I would quote a price, it was not uncommon to hear comments that my price is too high, since I am only a bochur.

Let me explain the expenses of a one-man-band.

First of all, a good keyboard used by the wedding pros (which is not uncommon to be used by a bochur) costs a few thousand dollars. Secondly, a decent sound system, which includes speakers, a mixer and cables, runs in the thousands. This is in addition to the thousands of hours devoted to programming and practicing.

The next time you hire a one-man band, even if he's "just a bochur," realize that he still has many expenses.



Now, I don't know if this is a uniquely Jewish problem, but this is not the first time I've heard a similar story in the frum world -- where employers pay more to people with expenses (read: married) and less to employees without those expenses (read: single).

To me, this sounds very unprofessional and patently unfair. A person's salary (or fee) should be based on the value of the service provided. It should not be based on extraneous factors such as whether or not the person is married. In New York State, in regular employment situations, this is almost certainly illegal (I don't know how/if it applies to single-time engagements like a musician at an affair) and immoral. Should a musician with eight children demand for more money than one with two because he has more mouths to feed? The answer, clearly, is no -- because the six extra children do not add to the value of the service being provided. The musician's music isn't any better because of the six extra children. Likewise, a bochur's music isn't any worse because he is not married*.

Sadly, this is not the first time I've heard of such situations in the frum world. Like I said, I don't know if this is a "frum" problem or if it exists in other ethnic communities. But it should stop.

Do any of you have any similar experiences?

The Wolf

* Yes, it's possible that he was being asked to accept less because of his inexperience (which is acceptable), not his youth - but from the tone of Y.P.'s letter, that doesn't sound like the case.


Holy Hyrax said...

Same thing goes with male teachers being paid more than female teachers

Anonymous said...

my dad told me that this quite common in the business world in smaaller companies. you got a raise if you got married or had another kid.

SuperRaizy said...

hyrax is absolutely right. A few years ago, I was hired to teach in a local yeshiva. The salary they offered me was much too low, so I declined the offer. The principal was surprised. "What's the problem?" he said. "You'd be bringing in a few extra dollars to help your husband out." When I responded that I was the sole support of my family, he said, "Well that's a different story" and offered me more money. I was so outraged. Salary should not be based on what the boss thinks you "need".

G said...

To be clear, I agree with your post in principle.

However, why the big surprise? Since when has judaism espoused a capitalistic society?

Anonymous said...

If a person is willing to work for less then the business is allowed to pay them less
however it is possible that many businesses pay more for those that need more even though they can get away with paying less and the reason for that is that the boss wants to be nice to his employees and wants them to work well so one who is in need of more money evokes sympathy and boss pays em more money even though boss can get away with paying less. additionally because they are in need of money it is likley that without the raise the stress and pressure will affect the performance.

the reason for men getting paid more than women in yeshivas and the like is that many times the men are the primary bread winners of their families while the women arent and as such the primary bread winner will demand higher salaries otherwise will not work as they can not support themselves on the lower salary

additionally single women have less of a need for the higher salary and therefore some of them may be willing to work for less which lowers the market price for all female teachers while rebbeim are generally men who are already married with kids and have higher costs and therefore will not settle for less money.

I think the usual market forces play a role here too

Anonymous said...

In a unionized environment this would never be tolerated.

Anonymous said...

ok but who said that is a good thing
who said unions are good
maybe they tilt the power in favor of the individual too much

a persons worth should be judged based on what the market is for him or her not based on what the market is for all of the employees of the whole business together.

BrooklynWolf said...

It has nothing to do with unions. I've never worked as part of a union a day in my life, but I've never had that sort of experience. I would *never* expect to receive a raise because I had an extra kid... nor would I expect a co-worker of mine to get one instead of me based on that criteria.

The Wolf

Binyamin said...

Anonymous(1) is correct, that this is a valid market response. Salary is only partly a function of the value of the service, but more properly it is the market-clearing price, where both sides find the deal worthwhile. Someone with more kids needs more money, so he will not accept a lower salary. Even if the product is the same, the costs are different because the suppliers of the labor have different supply curves.

He also made a valid point that workers will work better if they are comfortable with the salary, and this is also a function of their needs.

Anonymous said...

It shud depend on yoore edikation. Da moore you no,da moore u shud urn.

Orthoprax said...

"where employers pay more to people with expenses (read: married) and less to employees without those expenses (read: single)."

Maybe it's simply a factor that those with more expenses aren't willing to take jobs that pay less. This is way more capitalistic than paying based on a sense of 'fairness'.

Anonymous said...

You may not expect to receive a raise just because you had another child, but it isn't totally unheard of for a working parent to request a salary raise on that account.

Anonymous said...

2 points, my wife (the skipper) in the past would ask me to ask for a raise based on need. I would never do it, unless I was able to ba make a case as to why my value to the company has increased. Also, about 4 years ago our office was unionized against our will (bizzare set of circumstances) and I've joked ever since that I became somewhat less efficient since than.

Anonymous said...

If this were a straight economic matter of a single bochur being willing to accept less for the same service, than one would expect the single musicians to get more bookings than the married ones. That is, the married ones would get jobs only because eithe the single guys were already booked or the customer didn't know he could get a better deal than the married ones.

It is quite possible that YP may get told he is being paid less because he is a bochur, but that may or may not be true. his customers may not want to tell him he isn't yet as good as his married competition.

Anonymous said...

there are definitely non economic factors at play also
like given the choice between a single keyboard player and a little more expensive married one people may feel that they want to pay a little extra and help give parnassah to a person who needs the money to support a family

Anonymous said...

There is a frum company which hires young boys and makes them work many hours for little pay, but it is understood that once they get married their hours are sliced and their salary is increased. Makes no sense to me, but it's possible that who ever is in charge of that company had figured in a drop out rate and it makes sense to him.

Orthonomics said...

It is a frum thing. In the general world, sometimes singles do feel put upon because they are stuck with more travel than marrieds with children.

Regarding the musician, something doesn't compute. Of course he has expenses. But, I'm guessing he is asking too high of a price too early in the game. Potential clients might blame his unmarried status, but if he undercuts the competition, I suspect that he will find himself booking more jobs(assuming he offers a competitive product) and will eventually be able to raise his price as his reputation grows. He might not be giving him business sufficient time to grow and cannot command market rate yet.

Orthonomics said...

Someone with more kids needs more money, so he will not accept a lower salary.

Sometimes that contributes to underemployment when the person really doesn't merit a "high enough" salary.

Anonymous said...

Folks, with all due respect, I think you're missing YP's point.

If you read the letter carefully, you'll notice that YP doesn't really take issue with the general idea of people expecting to pay less to a bochur than to a married man. IMHO, he seems to be conceding that point. His real issue seems to be that a one-man-band bochur has expenses also (keyboards, speakers, sound systems, programming costs, etc., etc.), so the ordinary practice of supporting marrieds over singles shouldn't apply here.

That's where he loses me.

I'm not sure where YP is holding right now (he did mention that he's no longer a bochur) - if he just got married, does he have kids, how old are they, etc. My guess is that he's still relatively early in the game. Why? Because when I was still single, I thought the same way he did. Hey, I have to buy expensive equipment & the latest programming just to stay in the game, right? Why not pay me the money, instead of some married guy with kids - I have to live, too! However, once I was married with school-aged kids, I got an education in how expensive it really is to raise a frum family in the 21st century. And as far as equipment is concerned, ask any married musician to compare his "gear" purchases before and after marriage. You'll likely get a rueful chuckle. What seemed absolutely essential as a single guy is suddenly back-burnered to trivial things like food, clothing, rent/mortgage, YESHIVA TUITION, etc., etc. And yes, I know that bochurim also have to eat, clothe themselves, and pay rent - but trust me, the dollars & cents simply don't compare. (I can see bochurim reading this and rolling their eyes, but the marrieds are all nodding wisely.) Yes, there's a large initial outlay for a good one-man-band setup, but once it's paid for, you're set. Family expenses, however, are endless and ever-expanding. There's no comparison. None.

Having said all that, I agree with Wolf that it should make no difference. If the bochur rocks the house, by all means let him charge for the talent he brings to the table, and leave the economics lesson out of it. But don't tell me that gear purchases in any way compare to the expense of raising a family. That assertion is, at best, quite naive.