• Hourly Wage vs. Salary, Exempt vs. Non-Exempt

    Post by Dr. Al Lee,

    Most people in the US work force have the heard the terms “exempt” and “non-exempt,” but what do they mean? While many web sites talk about pay rate, there is not a whole lot of explanation regarding exempt and non-exempt status.

    While I am not a lawyer, or even an HR specialist, I am an employee, and also hopelessly curious about all things related to pay and employment. The basic law is that employers are required by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to classify their employees as either exempt or non-exempt.

    The more I read about the meaning of "exempt" vs. "non-exempt", the more a lyric of the Paul Simon song "Train in the Distance" goes through my head, "...with disagreements about the meaning of a marriage contract, conversations hard and wild." Like a marriage, in the US an employee/employer relationship is governed by a little law, and a lot of social convention. Since much is not written down, misunderstandings are common.

    Before we delve into the details, why not check out where your salary fits into all of this controversy?  Find out with our ever-handy salary calculator.

  • High Annual Salary: Blue Collar Jobs

    For workers who would rather wear steel-tipped boots instead of a three-piece suit, the salary outlook doesn't have to be low; some blue-collar jobs have a surprisingly high salary range. These high paying jobs don't require a college degree, but often do involve specialized training. So if you like to get your hands dirty, you can still earn a high annual salary.

    Certain mechanics, equipment operators and installers are actually earning a larger annual salary than the typical American. According to the Census Bureau, the U.S. median income is $43,318. With that in mind, says that the average salary for the top ten blue-collar jobs is a little above $27 per hour. By calculating hourly wage to annual salary, we find the following: if a blue-collar worker makes $27 an hour, works 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, then his or her annual salary is in the area of $56,160, which is 30% above the average Joe.

    Is your salary on schedule with blue-collar workers? Clock in with our salary calculator.

  • Hourly Wage: Santa Claus

    Post by Dr. Al Lee, Payscale

    One of the more unique jobs out there is working as a Santa Claus. The job requirements include a sizeable tummy, a real beard (fake ones are out) and a convincing “ho-ho-ho.” While it may sound like holiday heresy to mention "Santa" and "salary" in the same breath, you might be surprised to learn that Santas can earn a high hourly wage for bringing joy to little kids and big kids alike.

    A beginning Santa can earn an hourly wage of $100, while veteran Santas can earn an average wage of $175 to $200 per hour. The really big pay rate comes on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day; that's when these Kris Kringles can earn wages of $175 to $200 for their first hour of work, and $100 to $300 for every hour after that.

    If a Santa works 40 days during the holiday season, he can ring in the New Year with $8,000 to $10,000 in total wages. The big money is reportedly in private and corporate events, that’s where Santa’s wishes come true. Of course, there are some expenses, namely, the red suit, boots and belt which can put Santa out $500 to $1000 bucks. However, earning $10,000 in a little more than month is good money, especially for retirees.

    Is your salary a holiday gift or a nightmare?  Find out with our Santa, err, salary calculator.

  • Salary Range: Low Start, High Finish

    In the marketplace, there are the jobs that start off at the bottom and stay there, but there are also opportunities that start at the bottom and reap great rewards later (no, we're not talking about the lottery!). One of those vocational opportunities is working as a stockbroker, which is the centerpiece of the holiday film The Pursuit of Happyness.

    Unlike the typical good date movies that open during the holidays, Will Smith plays a homeless man (with son in tow) who takes a job as an intern at Dean Witter with hopes of working his way up to a stockbroker gig. That’s pretty much how it works in the real world too. Surprisingly, there is no diploma or degree required to be a stockbroker, you can be a Harvard grad or a high school drop-out (although, I suspect a college degree doesn’t hurt).

    As in The Pursuit of Happyness, most future stockbrokers start off in an internship training program (which usually doesn't pay or pays little); then they must pass several licensing exams. After that gauntlet, most rookie stockbrokers don’t survive because the job is commission based. For those who do, the average salary for a stockbroker in New York is $91,130. And top performers can earn a high-end annual salary of $160,914! That’s going from homeless to some serious stockbroker respect!

    How does your salary compare to the market? Crunch the numbers with our salary calculator.

  • Wage Rate: Tipping Bartenders to Casino Dealers

    I have an ethically challenged friend who practices “second generation tipping.” He takes a tip off someone else’s table and puts it on his. His rational is, “I get good service, the waiter gets his tip; everyone wins.” To understand where his logic is flawed, I turned to the PayScale Salary Report Database.

    Many employees depend on tips for much of their income. In fact, the minimum wage an employer must pay drops below $2.50/hour in 15 states for workers earning tips. The restaurant customer is more the employer of a waiter than the person who hired him.

    All this tip data was so interesting, we included it in a larger article of tipping for the holidays on the PayScale website. I'll highlight a few of the interesting facts here about who relies on tips to make ends meet.

    How does your salary fare, with or without tips?  Find out with our salary calculator.

  • Ten Highest-Paid Career Women

    Earlier this year, Forbes columnist Michael Noer urged readers not to marry career women. Not surprisingly, his Forbes Magazine Online article drew a lot of fire, especially when Noer claimed that nuptials with a career woman would result in “...a higher risk of having a rocky marriage.”

    As someone married to a career woman (a director of clinical affairs, no less) for over 20 years, I take exception with Noer's analysis. While my wife is not in the rarified ranks of Fortune Magazine Online's list of the ten highest-paid women, the advantages of marrying a career woman are manifold (million-fold? :-)

    Let's look at this list of most successful career women. Do they prove Noer's thesis, or do they somehow find wedded bliss while pursuing a career? If you are curious how your or your spouse's pay compares, find out with our salary calculator.

  • Pay Scale: State Senators

    The recent election certainly changed the political landscape; while congressional power has shifted to the Democrats, all Senators and Congressmen are paid equally in Washington D.C., regardless of which state they represent.

    However, that consistency does not exist on the state level. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures and their 2005 annual salary survey of lawmakers (in each of the 50 states), the pay rate for state senators and representatives differs from state to state. So if you’re thinking of running for office, you might want to do a salary comparison before taking the plunge.

    Let's take a look at how the state senators' pay scale varies between Arkansas and California. In Arkansas, a lawmaker’s annual salary is a paltry $14,067; while in California, state senators and representatives are paid an annual salary of $110,880. If the work lawmakers do is proportional to the number of citizens, the Californians are getting a deal: each state senator in California costs each citizen 0.3 cents, while the price is 0.5 cents per lawmaker per citizen in Arkansas :-)

    Is your salary closer to an Arkansas or California state senator? Find out with our exclusive PayScale salary survey.

  • Annual Salary: White House Staff

    Most people know that the annual salary for President Bush is $400,000, and some may be aware that Vice President Cheney's is $212,100, but what about everyone else who works in the White House? It would seem like a dream job: famous boss, getting to ride in President Bush's limo and a high salary, right?

    According to an article in the National Journal, staff assistants (those who respond to the President’s mail and answer phones) in the White House make an annual salary of $30,000. That’s not really high pay, especially in the Washington D.C. area, where rent can be pricey. However, with the White House address on their resume, those staffers will probably see an increase in their career salary down the road.

    Their salaries pale in comparison to the "Director of Lessons Learned", who makes an annual salary of $106,641. What the heck is a Director of Lessons Learned? The position was reportedly created by President Bush after Hurricane Katrina, to study what went wrong with the government’s response.

    Does your salary look like it was hit by Hurricane Katrina? Find out with our salary calculator.

  • Low Starting Pay: High Profile Careers

    We’re often taught that putting in long hours and acquiring advanced degrees will result in a big paycheck. Sometimes that’s true, but there are some vocations where extra effort may not result in a large salary, even after all that time and studying.

    If you dream of Frank Lloyd Wright architecture and having a glamorous architect salary, remember that budding architects have to give up around seven years of their lives to complete undergraduate and master's degrees. After getting your degree, you still won’t be earning a typical architect salary. You have to take a licensing exam and work as an intern at architectural firms for three years.

    According to the American Institute of Architects’ 2005 compensation survey and the PayScale salary database, first-year interns (armed with a master's degree) usually make a starting pay of about $34,000 and often carry $50,000 to $80,000 in debt - thanks to student loans. If you hang in there and pursue your dream of becoming an architect, with 10 years of experience or more you can earn a median architect salary of $70,300 in the US.

    What does your job draw compared to the typical architect career? Find out with our salary calculator.

  • Career Salaries on TV

    Career Salaries on TV

    We all know that TV Stars, from Jerry Seinfeld to Ray Romano, pull in very large career salaries, but did you ever wonder what their characters make salary-wise?

    Remember the Baywatch cast? Back in their glory days, Pamela Anderson was raking in a reported seven-figure salary, but how much was her character, lifeguard "C.J." Parker, making? They never actually said on any Baywatch episodes, but in California, the hourly wage for a lifeguard, with 5-9 years of experience, is $11.25. If the Baywatch babe was a high-paid lifeguard, she might have been making an hourly wage of $13.60. Kinda makes you wonder how C.J. could afford her cool beach house?   Hmm, they never explained that in any of the Baywatch episodes either.

    How does your salary stack up (pardon the pun) against C.J.’s? Do you make more than a Baywatch babe? Find out with our salary calculator.

  • Minimum Wage vs. Living Wage

    Controversial wage proposals called "living wage laws" are popping up all over America these days. Earlier this year, the Chicago City Council passed a living wage law aimed at big-box retailers, which would have required stores such as Wal-Mart and Target to pay wages of at least $10 an hour plus $3 in fringe benefits by the middle of 2010.

    Wal-Mart and other mega-retailers objected and Chicago Mayor Richard Daley subsequently exercised his first veto in 17 years, vetoing the living wage measure. Mayor Daley said the measure would have unfairly kept big-box retailers out of predominately black city neighborhoods, which need jobs.

    How much more is $10 an hour vs. the current minimum wage? In Illinois, the minimum wage is $6.50 an hour, so $10/hour would have been more than a 50% raise, and is almost double the federal minimum wge of $5.15. Beyond the legal minimum, are you being paid the average wage for your job? Find out with our salary calculator.

    You might be surprised to learn which jobs can pay a minimum wage, or just a little above.

  • High Salary Range: Surprising Jobs

    Would you like to make six figures? Who wouldn’t? Well, it may surprise you to learn that not everyone has to get a medical degree, work as a broker on Wall Street or spend their days inside a law firm to earn in the $100,000 annual salary range. According to, there are some jobs with six figure salaries that do not require an advanced degree.

    Can you knock out 200 words per minute? Then you could be one of the 50 to 60,000 court reporters working today. According to, the national average salary is $62,000, but some court reporters can reportedly earn an annual salary of $100,000 in “many cities.” We’d have to assume that includes working overtime, which could be tough on the fingers!

    In our ever-crowding justice system, the job outlook for court reporters looks good. However, for those tiring of the legal profession, career changes for court reporters (or other fast typists) include broadcast captioning and real-time reporting for web casts. Are your fingers being paid what they're worth? Find out by typing your job into the PayScale salary survey.

  • Salary Calculator: Nursing 101

    registered nurses, union membership, salary calculator, average salary, pay rate, nurse salary, nursing salaries, National Labor Relations Board, night shift nurses,, hourly wage, annual salary, Michigan hospital
Recently the National Labor Relations Board issued a ruling (3-to-2) that will re-classify registered nurses — and possibly 8 million other workers — as “supervisors” if they perform certain types of duties. The National Labor Relations Board ruled that a worker would be a supervisor if he or she: exercised “independent judgment,” oversaw another worker, could be held accountable for another worker’s performance or spent 10 to 15 percent of total work time in supervisor-type duties.

    How will this affect the average nurse salary? In the nursing world, that would mean that a nurse overseeing a shift (the charge nurse) would be considered a “supervisor” if she assigns another nurse to a patient. Ultimately, workers that are re-classified as “supervisors” are excluded from union membership, which will likely affect their pay rate.

    According to our salary calculator, a (non-union) registered nurse in Michigan makes an average salary of $45,438. Is a non-union nurse salary significantly different from a nurse with union membership?

  • Average Salary: Working in Iraq worth the risks?

    It might surprise most Americans to learn that there are over 25,000 private contractors in Iraq. These contractors make up the third largest international force in the war-torn country, behind U.S. military and U.K. troops. For this reason, private contractors are often called the “shadow army in Iraq .”

    Many jobs that were traditionally performed by the U.S. military - truck driving, security, laundry and food services - have been farmed out to private contractors. The idea is if these military jobs are “outsourced” to contractors, then the U.S. military is freed up for armed conflict.

    According to our PayScale salary survey, the average wages for truck drivers in Illinois are around $45,000. If that same trucker works for a private contractor in Iraq, he will reportedly have a starting salary range of $100,000, but are the dangers worth it?

  • Average Salary = Barely Getting By?

    A whopping two-thirds of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck, according to the results of the American Payroll Association (APA) 2006 "Getting Paid in America" online salary survey. While the survey probably has a biased sample - who completes a survey by a national association of check processors? - it appears that, for most, their average salary is barely meeting their needs.

    On top of the paycheck to paycheck salary statistics, an astounding 81% percent polled in the APA salary survey say that their yearly raises do not cover the increased cost of living. Ouch: inflation is at a historical low. How ugly is this going to get if inflation continues to increase?

    Sounds like people cannot afford to be underpaid, and everyone should see if they are, by using the PayScale salary survey.

  • Average Salaries: Are they really highest in San Francisco?
    A recent article in the Portland Business Journal claims that average salaries in San Francisco are the highest in the country. Is this true? Does it pay to live in San Francisco? Is it really that bad a deal to live in Birmingham, Alabama, the place with the lowest average salaries?

    If you have read my earlier posts, you know to be skeptical about any statement about "median", "typical", or "average" salaries. This particular study reports on the median salary in each city for jobs that have a national median salary of $30,000. This was a little too vague for me, so I looked in the PayScale salary survey data for my own two typical jobs: Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and Registered Nurse (RN).

  • Fashion Week: Pay for jobs that could get you there to hobnob with Paris Hilton

    Fashion Week is on in New York City. Stuck out here in Seattle, with a job about as far from fashion as one can get, I had no luck convincing my boss to pay for a junket to Fashion Week.

    What jobs would get me to Fashion Week? Do any of them pay well? I did a little digging using our salary survey data. I found a couple jobs that pay a reasonably salary, and I would stand a chance of being able to justify a week in NYC to the boss.

    These are not jobs where you will automatically rub elbows with Hilary Duff and Usher, or ogle Nicky and Paris Hilton from the first row, or even be able to afford clothes from Marc Jacobs, but you will be in the fashion industry, and have a paycheck that is good enough to keep your family off your back about getting a "real" job.

  • Fair Pay: Is it legal for men to be paid more for the same job?

    I am not a lawyer, so take this with a big grain of salt. The Equal Pay Act (EPA) of 1963 says that it is unlawful in the United States to pay women less salary than men for work that is "substantially equal." The law specifies that men and women must be paid equally for similar work unless the salary difference is based on seniority, experience, or other legitimate factors. At the time of the EPA’s passage, women made 58 cents for every dollar brought home by their male counterparts. The EPA was established to level out this salary imbalance.

  • Why a Blog About Salaries?