Over at Whatever, Scalzi talks about his first job, as well as what it was paid (and what the same job pays now), and invites others to do the same. This post was inspired by a blog called the Billfold doing a column in which people answer that same question. (Which is pretty interesting, by the way.)
Anyway! My first real job was working the desk at Tulane Medical Library in 1983, about three months after I graduated from the University of New Orleans with a B.A. in English. It took three months to find an actual job -- I spent about six weeks of that time working at a deli in the mall* -- because this was during the Reagan years, when it was Mourning in America.
My starting pay was just over ten thousand a year, and (I think because I worked for Tulane Medical School) I paid into the state retirement system, which meant I didn't pay into Social Security. I had no idea what this meant at the time; what it turned out to mean was that, when I quit three years later to go to graduate school, the state paid me (either some or all, I don't remember which) of that money back as a flat fee, rather than fund any of my eventual retirement.
According to the BLS Inflation Calculator, ten thousand dollars in 1983 money is about $24,000 now. It seemed like a ton of money then, when I was single and with no kids, living with my parents and saving up money for graduate school. Within a year, as well, they had raised me to $14,000/year, which is $32, 000/year. Also I had health insurance, full dental, and one day's vacation plus one day's sick leave a month.
Looking back, it was a hella job. Except it was also hella boring, and the librarians there were mean as wild hogs.
*** **** ***
Now the first actual paying job I ever had was when I was either eight or nine -- I can't actually remember which. It paid four dollars a month. I had to fold and distribute these newsletters around our neighborhood. It was also hella boring. This would have been 1968 or 1969.
The inflation calculator tells me four dollars in 1968 had more than $25.00 worth of spending power. And I do believe that, because four dollars seemed a lot of money to me in those days. But I also remember feeling it was not at all enough money, especially since my older brother got seven dollars (because he was my boss; he had contracted the job, see, and hired me on) for the same work.
So I conducted my very first slow-down strike, refusing to conduct the work in a timely fashion. Eventually my father had to negotiate between us. I demanded a raise. I wanted equal pay for equal work. My brother the boss refused to grant it.
(He was only a year older than me, so he wasn't doing any more work than me; and I'll also state that he had not gotten this job himself -- my father had gotten it for him, and advised him about the politics of contracting out the work to his employees, me and my little brother, for less pay. Foolishly, he advised him about all this in front of me. I think this might be the moment I became a radical.)
My father instructed me I had a choice at this point. I could accept the lower pay or I could quit.
"Fine," I said. "I quit."
He stared at me, utterly astonished.
"You can pass out your own papers," I told my brother, and got up and left the negotiating table (our dining room table).
This was not the last time, I think, that I would take my father by surprise. Though I don't know why -- his labor force, after all, had nothing much to lose. I didn't have kids to feed or rent to pay; I wasn't even saving up for a bicycle. My only vice was fiction, and the local library was free.
Real-world oppressors, obviously, do a much better job.
*And I also interviewed for about 90 other jobs, including jobs at gas stations, and one where I would have been poodle-skirt wearing roller-skating cocktail waitress** at a bowling alley, I kid you not.
** I double-dog dare anyone to do fan-art of this.
3 hours ago