Who’s got my $3 to $4 million?

Goldman Sachs C.E.O. Lloyd Blankfein and C.O.O. Gary Cohn, in the boardroom of Goldman’s headquarters, in New York City.

Goldman Sachs C.E.O. Lloyd Blankfein and C.O.O. Gary Cohn, in the boardroom of Goldman’s headquarters, in New York City.

The young women in my classes are as likely to be economics or pre-med or engineering majors as the young men sitting next to them (many surveys bear this out–you can google them).

Early in each semester, I ask my students to chat in pairs for a couple of minutes and then introduce each other to the class. I ask them to tell us their major.

I ask them to do this because much of the work they will do is “collaborative.” At least my loose interpretation of “collaborative.”  That was the buzz-word in English Composition teaching a few years back. Even back then I didn’t have my students work “collaboratively” in the complex sense of the word the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) uses.

My students talk together to come up with ideas for writing, to discuss differing opinions about whatever topic is at hand, and to critique each other’s’ work before they submit it for evaluation.

This kind of working-together requires at least superficial acquaintance.

The point I started to make before I sidetracked myself was about women students and their career choices. It turns out an inordinate number of those young women who are pursuing double majors in, let’s say, international economics and statistics are likely to end up teaching world geography in a middle school somewhere or being a counselor in a non-profit organization for battered women. Some such “caring” profession.

I heard a discussion of this phenomenon on “Marketplace” on NPR recently.

Make $3 to $4 million here?

Make $3 to $4 million here?

I was shocked. Anthony  Carnavale, Economist at Georgetown University,  says that a pitifully small percentage of the women who major in subjects that should prepare them for high end professions use their education when they join the work force. Over their lifetimes they end up making $3 to $4 million less than they would have had they stuck to their guns.

I thought feminism had changed all of that. I guess not.

If you’re doing something menial like counseling battered women, you’ve cheated yourself out of one helluva lot of money, according to Prof. Carnavale. “’Oh, you left a lot of money on the table,’ [Carnavale] told me. ‘You left probably as much as $3 to $4 million on the table’” says Lisa Chow in the NPR piece. Chow continues,

A typical journalist’s lifetime earnings will be somewhere in the $2 million range. Not bad! But someone with math skills and an MBA [which Chow has] could get a management job and make $5 million or $6 million over the course of a career.

What does one’s annual income have to be to make $3 to $4 million over the course of one’s lifetime? Not that much. When you’re 25, if you go to work for Goldman Sachs at $100,000 per year (NO ONE at Goldman Sachs gets only $100,000 per year—to say anyone there “earns” their pay stretches a point so far I can’t say it—they “get” that dough) and you stay at that job until you’re 65, you earn a total of $4 million. In 2011, according to Forbes Magazine, Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs got (earned? Give me a break!) $16,164,405, eight times the amount Lisa Chow can expect to earn in her entire life as a journalist.

If you never had a full time job in the profession for which you earned a PhD until you were 42 years old, you’ve probably left $3 or $4 million on the table, too.

That’s me.

In reality, except for a two-year stint as a shipping clerk at the now-defunct Kaiser Steel plant in Fontana, CA, I didn’t have a full-time job in any profession until I was 42.

I’m not kvetching. I paid my money and I took my chances. The job I got when I was 42 was possible only because I got sober when I was 41. By that time a career at Goldman Sachs had long-since passed me by, but I’ve been fully employed as a professor since then. Those positions have under-utilized my skills, but I have supported myself moderately well since I sobered up.

Let’s say I’ve earned an average of $40,000 a year (to stretch another point almost to breaking) since I was 42, that is, 26 years ago. I’ve made just over $1 million. I would have made $3 or $4 million more if I’d worked at Kaiser Steel all this time. Of course, someone in China is doing that job now.

Do you have any concept how little money it’s possible to save for “retirement” when you’ve earned a mythical $40,000 a year for 26 years?

Lisa Chow - is she worth 2% as much as Lloyd Blankfein?

Lisa Chow – is she worth 2% as much as Lloyd Blankfein?

Think about those people who’ve worked as security guards at McDonald’s their entire lives. Or at the “customer service” desk at Walmart. Or in the city clerk’s office in Detroit. Or as a maintenance man at your apartment house. And think about your neighbor who has had a catastrophic illness and lost everything she owns. Or the mentally ill brother of the guy you work with who has been homeless since he was 25.

We haven’t done a very good job of working collaboratively to make sure our neighbors survive, much less flourish. (Our friends, yours if you’re reading this, and mine, are OK—we’re that kind of folks.)

I have a PhD. I’m fairly bright and (at this point) healthy. Gloria Gaynor sings my theme song (applied to all areas of my life, the one the song is about as well as to my having food on the table and a place to live). I will survive the poverty of my senescence. I’ll probably even survive the aloneness. But most Americans won’t do so well.

Got that? MOST Americans. I’m not making that up.