Let me run some salaries by you: $6,791 a month; $6,213 a month; $5,969 a month. Not bad money, right? Seventy-thousand bucks a year would keep most Americans nicely fed and housed. Would it surprise you to learn those salaries are what interns make at, respectively, Twitter, Facebook, and Google. Can you imagine the level of applicants for those jobs? Can you say "cream of the crop?"
The companies above — and many others, including oil companies, banks, and hospitals — are utilizing something called the "efficiency wage theory." They believe that higher wages result in an increased quality of workers by increasing the overall quality and ability level of the pool of applicants, and helping them to win the most talented workers away from competitors. They know that higher-paid workers are able to better take care of themselves in terms of health, affordable housing, and transportation — benefits that accrue to the employers, since healthier employees are usually more productive. Other benefits include higher employee morale and employees who work harder to keep their jobs.
These companies know that under-paid employees scrambling to pay their bills are constantly looking for another job, and have poor morale and work habits. They know that paying lower-than-equilibrium wages actually costs companies money in employee turnover and lost production necessitated by having to constantly train new hires.
Now, let me run another salary by you: $22,400. No, it's not what we pay interns at the Flyer. It's the average starting salary for a pilot at America's regional airlines, according to the American Pilots Association. That's right. Many of the men and women charged with safely flying millions of people a year from city to city make less than the counter clerk at your dry cleaners — or your bartender. Or in a more apt comparison, they make about half of what most city bus drivers make.
How does this happen? Why are we paying people who are charged with our lives a wage that will ensure they live on Ramen noodles and cohabitate with roommates in cheap housing?
Is there a glut of pilots keeping wages low? Too much competition for entry-level flying jobs? Nope. Just the opposite. A report by the Government Accounting Office says: "Data indicate that a large pool of qualified pilots exists relative to the projected demand, but whether such pilots are willing or available to work at wages being offered is unknown." Actually, the answer is known: Eleven out of 12 regional airlines did not meet their 2013 hiring goals.
In a 2009 crash of a Colgan Air regional plane that killed 49 people, the co-pilot was making $16,000 a year. Congress immediately passed laws requiring more flight hours for commercial pilots but did nothing about the abysmal wages being paid. The free hand of the market, and all that.
Smart companies pay their people good money. I leave it to you what that says about most of this country's regional airlines, whose corporate slogan should be: "Take A Chance. Fly With Us."