MONEY Family

If Santa Claus Were Paid, He’d Earn $140,000

Santa showing fan of $100 bills
Ivan Bliznetsov—Getty Images

If Santa was paid for the work he does, he'd make around $140,000 annually—a bit more than what moms would theoretically bring home, and twice what dad caregivers should earn.

According to the 2014 Santa Index, a “study” created by the all-purpose insurance information site Insure.com, Santa Claus would earn $139,924 annually if he were paid fair wages for all of the jobs he handles.

Researchers at the site come up with the estimate by adding up the various tasks that constitute Santa’s job description. It goes without saying that Santa has quite a unique skill set, including roles as a reindeer handler, professional shopper, cookie taster, and private investigator (knows if you’ve been bad or good). The bulk of Santa’s estimated salary comes as a result of overseeing the toy workshop, a job that falls under the domain of industrial engineering and would earn the big guy $116,742 per year. Meanwhile, Santa’s piloting skills, which he uses just once a year when delivering toys on his sleigh, would earn the highest hourly wages ($62.31, so $623 for putting in a ten-hour shift on Christmas Eve).

When all of the 15 different components of Santa’s job are tallied up—based on mean hourly wages and the rough hours per year worked—the total comes to just under $140,000. That’s roughly $20,000 more than what the average stay-at-home mom is worth and double what the average SAH dad is worth, according to lighthearted studies conducted by the career-research site Salary.com.

The job (and estimated hypothetical salary) of stay-at-home parents is a combination of roles that are very different than Santa’s, including van driver, laundry operator, cook, psychologist, and (household) CEO. While Santa’s varied roles would mean he’d log in roughly 83 hours per week on the job—with much longer hours toward the end of the year, presumably—stay-at-home moms report enduring even longer work weeks, averaging 96.5 hours weekly.

Santa Claus’s bearded “helpers”—the imitation for-hire Santas who work the malls and holiday parties at this time of year—don’t earn anywhere near Insure.com’s estimated value of the true Santa Claus. While some lucrative Santa gigs pay upwards of $75 or even $300 per hour, wages of $15 to $20 per hour are more likely, and a hardworking Santa with regular assignments can expect to pull in somewhere between $5,000 and $15,000 during the winter holidays.

Accurate, real-time salaries for thousands of careers.

Meanwhile, many survey participants think that $140,000 doesn’t come close to what Santa deserves in an annual salary. In an Insure.com poll, 9% of consumers said Santa should earn more than $200,000 annually, and 29% said that he should pull in a whopping $1.8 billion per year—a flat $1 for each child under age 15 on the planet.

We can’t find a parallel survey indicating how much children think their moms should be paid for all they do. If the question were ever asked, it would be wise to answer that moms (and dads too, of course!) deserve to make at least as much if not more than Santa Claus. Santa would surely agree that there’s nothing more valuable than a good parent—and remember, he’s watching.

 

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: December 3

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. The Obamas should consider teaching in an urban public school after 2016.

By Valerie Strauss in the Washington Post

2. Tech journalism needs to grow up.

By Michael Brendan Dougherty in The Week

3. Despite conventional wisdom to the contrary, the surge strategy didn’t end the war in Iraq. We shouldn’t try it again against ISIS.

By Daniel L. Davis in The American Conservative

4. Adjusting outdated rules for overtime could give middle class wages a valuable boost.

By Nick Hanauer in PBS News Hour’s Making Sense

5. A new solar power device can collect energy even on cloudy days and from reflected lunar light.

By Tuan C. Nguyen in Smithsonian Magazine

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: December 1

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Though manufacturing jobs — particularly in the auto industry — are making a comeback, the wages are low and not even keeping up with inflation.

By Catherine Ruckelshaus and Sarah Leberstein at the National Employment Law Project

2. Simple, human-centered adaptive technology can change lives for people with disabilities.

By Krithika Krishnamurthy in Economic Times

3. As the military finally integrates men and women, gender-segregated recruit training in the Marines must end.

By Lieutenant Colonel Kevin G. Collins in Marine Corps Gazette

4. A neutral review board — not the police department itself — should review officer-involved shootings.

By Michael Bell in Politico

5. After two peaceful elections, Tunisia demonstrates that fixing politics is easier than remaking a nation, and the problems that sparked the Arab Spring persist.

By Sam Kimball and Nicholas Linn in Quartz

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

MONEY Jobs

Don’t Count on Raises Despite Friday’s Jobs Report

Person popping balloon
Getty Images—Getty Images

Despite more Americans finding employment, workers shouldn't expect any big changes in their paychecks just yet.

Workers can be forgiven if they don’t rejoice in Friday’s jobs report.

Employers added 214,000 jobs in October, pushing the unemployment rate down to 5.8%. This is another sign the U.S. economy is starting to get on a roll.

Businesses have added an average of around 230,000 jobs a month since January, when the unemployment started off at 6.6%. Stocks have been hitting all-time highs. And the Federal Reserve just announced that it was ending the third round of its stimulative bond-buying program thanks in part to the fact that the labor market has been improving.

Despite these positive trends, though, there still remains significant slack in the labor market. Millions of discouraged workers who want a job have given up looking — or are working part-time when they prefer full-time employment.

Moreover, the long-term unemployed are still much less likely to find a job now compared to before the 2007-2009 recession, and employees still don’t feel confident enough about their situation to quit their job in search of a high paying one. Meanwhile the unemployment rate lags the pre-recession low by more than a percentage point.

This might help to explain why Americans are still so pessimistic about their personal finances.

Almost three in four Americans think the economy was permanently damaged by the Great Recession, according to research by Rutgers University, which is actually more pessimistic than right after the recession. Moreover, only 37% say their finances are good or excellent shape, per recent Pew Research Center data.

Workers also understand that whatever raises they do get probably won’t outpace inflation. Take the Employment Cost Index, which measures workers salaries and benefits. Before the recession, the ECI rose at a year-over-year rate of more than 3% for about two years. Since 2009, though, the ECI hasn’t jumped above 2.2% (which, to be fair, was last quarter.)

fredgraph

And while the Fed did decide to end its bond-buying — otherwise known as quantitative easing — short-term interest rates remain essentially at zero, with expectations of a small hike potentially put off until well into 2015. By keeping rates so low for so long, the Fed is essentially signaling that consumer demand just isn’t there. Yet consumer demand is an essential ingredient in the recipe for gaining raises.

“We didn’t hear anything that causes us to reconsider our outlook that the Fed will follow a ‘lower for longer’ course when it comes to interest rates,” wrote USAA’s John Toohey in a recent note. “The U.S. recovery from the 2008–09 financial crisis has been slow and at times fragile, so our thinking is that the Fed will not want to risk a setback by raising rates too quickly. What is ending now is the third round of QE since late 2008; after the first two wrapped up, economic gains soon stalled. The Fed has not forgotten this.”

This jobs report seems to be another brick in the slow rebuild of the U.S. economy following the disaster of six years ago. It is encouraging that the Fed feels the economy is strong enough to chug along without it pumping billions of dollars into the financial system each month.

But workers should remember how big a hole we’ve needed to climb out of. Millions are still struggling to get by, or even get a job. And without strong bargaining power, or full employment, workers shouldn’t expect a raise anytime soon.

TIME The Brief

#TheBrief: Why Even Red States Want a Higher Minimum Wage

The first minimum wage was $0.25. Today, that’s $4.22

San Francisco and Oakland voted Tuesday to increase their minimum wages, and so did four states that roundly backed Republicans. Rising standards of living and inflation may be what triggered this increase, but is paying workers more the one issue we can all agree on?

Watch #TheBrief to find out what’s driving the push to pay their workers more.

MONEY Federal Reserve

Janet Yellen Makes Less Than Over 100 Other Fed Staffers

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen.
Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen. Dominick Reuter—Reuters

She's one of the most powerful people in the global economy, but doesn't pull down the top salary in her organization

As Chair of the Federal Reserve, Janet Yellen is one of the most powerful economic figures in the world. But she’s not exactly paid like it. In fact, she’s not even the highest paid employee in her own organization.

According to Reuters, which obtained data on the Federal Reserve’s salary structure from a Freedom of Information Act request, Yellen is paid less than at least 113 other Federal Reserve employees. She earns $201,700 a year, compared to the Fed’s highest paid employee, Inspector General Mark Bialek, who makes $312,000. He is followed by the bank’s four regional directors, the general counsel, and chief operating officer, all of whom take home a base pay of $265,000.

Why is Yellen paid less than her underlings? Yellen’s salary is set by Congress, but not the Fed’s senior staff.

As Reuters reporter Michael Flaherty notes, the Fed’s high salaries aren’t costing taxpayers a penny since the organization is funded by returns on the securities it owns. (The Fed’s not a normal federal agency, but a kind of public/private hybrid that’s supposed to operate independently but “within” the government.) However, that hasn’t stopped calls for more transparency: This is the first time the Fed has revealed how much its top brass make, and the information provided to Reuters only included those with salaries of at least $225,000 a year despite the request asking for the names of all board members with wages above $130,810—the highest salary on the usual federal payscale. Some Republicans in Congress have called for legislation that would require the Fed to create a searchable database of all Federal Reserve employees who make more than that sum.

While Yellen is almost certainly underpaid considering her responsibilities, don’t feel too bad for the Fed chair. Fed officials must disclose their wealth in ranges, and according to public records, Yellen and her husband hold assets worth somewhere between $5.3 million and $14.1 million.

In an almost too-perfect twist, the news about Yellen’s pay came on morning when she spoke at a conference about growing inequality.

MONEY Travel

The Hardworking Person You’ve Forgotten to Tip

Tip at Marriott hotel
Jeff Greenberg—Alamy

A new initiative from Marriott nudges travelers to tip their housekeepers.

American travelers are a pretty generous bunch. Virtually everyone tips restaurant staffers — 97%, according to a recent TripAdvisor survey. More than 80% of Americans tip taxi drivers, and 79% tip bellhops. Skipping the tip makes Americans anxious: 23% report feeling guilty when they don’t tip, and one in three Americans has tipped someone even when the service was bad.

But when Americans travel, they sometimes forget to tip the people who clean up after them: hotel housekeepers. Americans are less likely to tip housekeepers than other service workers; more than 31% report that they don’t tip hotel maids at all, according to TripAdvisor.

Now Marriott wants to offer a reminder. In a partnership with Maria Shriver’s nonprofit advocacy group, A Woman’s Nation, the hotel chain has launched a new initiative to place envelopes in hotel rooms where customers can leave “tips and notes of thanks.”

“Hotel room attendants often go unnoticed, as they silently care for the millions of travelers who are on the road at any given time,” states Marriott’s press release. “Because hotel guests do not always see or interact with room attendants, their hard work is many times overlooked when it comes to tipping.”

How much money should you leave? The American Hotel and Lodging Association, an industry trade group, recommends tipping housekeepers $1 to $5 a night, depending on the level of service and cost of the hotel. The Emily Post Institute concurs — its website recommends a tip of $2 to $5 a day.

Other important etiquette rules: Leave the tip every day, to ensure that whoever cleans the room that day gets the money. And be sure to put the cash in an envelope or leave a note next to the money saying “thanks” — any good housekeeper will be afraid to take cash if she’s not sure it belongs to her.

Even though hotel bills are getting bigger, the people who clean the rooms still make a pittance. During the first half of 2014, travelers paid an average of $137 a night for hotels in the United States, up 5% from last year, according to Hotels.com. On average, maids and housekeepers in the traveler accommodation industry make just $21,800 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics — below the poverty line for a family of four.

Which leads some people to ask — why doesn’t Marriott just pay its workers more, instead of asking customers to do it? For a $20.6 billion company MARRIOTT INTERNATIONAL INC. MAR 0.1034% , that’s a fair question. But for now, if your manners compel you to tip the taxi driver, the bellhop, and the concierge, don’t forget to leave a few bucks for the housekeeper, too.

MONEY Economy

The Real Reason Jobs Are So Slow to Come Back

Garden snail
Daly and Newton—Getty Images

It's not tax rates, or too much regulation, or college kids majoring in art history instead of computer science. This is a global slowdown.

Jobs growth has been frustratingly slow in this recovery. The headline unemployment rate is down to 6.1%, but there’s still a lot of slack in the labor market. Wages are stagnant, long-term unemployment is strikingly high, and an unusually large number of Americans are so discouraged about their prospects that they’ve stopped looking for work.

So what’s holding us back from a full recovery? Maybe taxes are too high. Or perhaps regulation is holding us back. Or too many people are going on disability. Or maybe—this theory is especially popular now—there’s something wrong with the workforce we have. Too many liberal arts majors, not enough welders and truckers and computer scientists.

The problem with those theories is that they are way too local. The jobs shortfall isn’t just an American thing—it’s global. Earlier this week, the World Bank released a report on jobs in the “G20″ group of major world economies. Missing jobs and stagnant wages is a story all around the world. Here’s a snapshot from the report, showing how far below the pre-crisis trend jobs growth has been:

Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 4.58.17 PM
SOURCE: World Bank

So what is it that’s holding almost everyone back? The World Bank chalks it up to a weak “aggregate demand”—but that only gets us halfway to an answer. What’s harder and more controversial is figuring out why demand for goods and services, which is what ultimately convinces employers to hire, has been so sluggish. One possibility is that consumers are too nervous to kick-start a virtuous cycle, where they buy more and thus spur more production and more hiring. The report notes that consumers around the world found themselves mired in debt after the crash, and that the growth in their income has been disappointing. In advanced economies, the share of GDP that goes to employee pay and benefits has declined substantially.

Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 4.53.46 PM
SOURCE: World Bank

But to bring the story back home to U.S., at least, the anxious consumer alone isn’t a good enough answer anymore. As economist Brad DeLong points out here, consumption in the U.S. isn’t actually down by that much. What is down, he says, is construction and government spending. And on government spending, what’s true in the U.S. has been true with a vengeance in Europe, where policymakers have pursued government austerity policies.

Rethinking education, or how we train the workforce, or tax policy, or regulations might very well help economic growth in the long run. Finding some way to boost the mood of consumers couldn’t hurt, either. But the big-picture view suggests a deeper problem. The economic crisis blew a massive hole in the global economy. And more than five years later, the evidence is mounting that governments around the world just did too little, too late to help mend the gap.

MONEY temps

Why Your Colleague Has the Same Boss, but a Different Employer

Temp nameplate
Jeffrey Coolidge—Corbis

As the economy recovers, companies are hiring more "temporary" workers who aren't all that temporary.

When Americans get back into the office after Labor Day weekend, they’ll probably see fewer empty cubicles than they have in recent years. New jobless claims have been falling, and as of May there are more people working than there were in early 2008, before the downturn.

But some of those people sitting next to you, or chatting with you by the coffee machine, might be working for a different company.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, an estimated 2.9 million Americans work in the “temporary help services industry.” That means that while they show up at the office of one employer, they really work for the staffing agency that signed their contract.

Of course, “temps” are nothing new. Companies—especially in white-collar industries—have been hiring temporary workers since the 1950s, often for specialized tasks for a short period of time. But today, some “temporary” employees do the exact same tasks as permanent employees, and they stick around for a lot longer.

“‘Temp’ is kind of a misnomer,” says Catherine Ruckelshaus, general counsel and program director at the National Employment Law Project, a liberal advocacy group. “Staffing companies are acting like human resource departments. They’re placing permanent slots, if not permanent workers.”

The number of temp jobs really began to balloon in the early 1990s. And since temps are easy to hire and easy to fire, they’ve borne the brunt of the booms and busts of the last 25 years. Temps were hit particularly hard during the recession of the early 2000s. “More than 25 percent of all jobs lost during that period were in temporary help services, despite their accounting for less than 2 percent of total employment,” according to the BLS.

“Whenever there’s a recession, temp and staffing trails off early and picks up in the beginning as the jobs start to come back,” Ruckelshaus says. “Oftentimes employers start to fill up their payroll with temp and staffing jobs as opposed to permanent positions.”

temporary help

That’s exactly what has happened since late 2009. “It’s a little bit early to tell if that’s a long-term trend or if that’s a normal bubble,” Ruckelshaus adds.

Increasingly, blue collar industries like janitorial services, warehouse and logistics, and home care have started to make use of contract workers. So have white collar industries like legal services, accounting, records processing, and media. (Some journalists at Time Inc., which publishes this site, are employed by an outside staffing company.)

What’s in it for companies? They like the flexibility—which is another way of saying easy-to-hire, easy-to-fire. Research suggests that temps are generally paid less, get fewer benefits and face more health and safety violations than direct hires.

In a new case before the National Labor Relations Board, a union argues that a subcontractor relationship has weakened its collective bargaining power. Browning-Ferris Industries gets some of its workers at a recycling facility though Leadpoint, a temporary staffing company. The union wants both companies to be considered those workers’ employers. The case could change the way NLRB evaluates “joint-employer” relationships, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Even so, it’s unlikely to mean that employers will stop using outside staffing—at least not until the job market is strong enough for potential employees to demand a less “flexible” arrangement.

Related:
If Jobs Are Back, Where’s My Raise?
If You’re Looking for Work, the Outlook Is Brightening
5 Ways to Speed Up Your Job Search This Fall

MONEY Workplace

What Labor’s Win at Market Basket Means for Your Job Security

140829_RET_Market_1
Elise Amendola/AP

The victory at a New England grocery chain might seem like a fluke. But economic trends show that workers may be finally getting some leverage.

You don’t often hear about it, but every day, in countless workplaces, people make difficult choices to do the right thing by standing up for co-workers—often at great risk to their careers. These workers are the true heroes of this and any other Labor Day. Which is why what happened recently at Market Basket is so unusual: labor won a major victory, and it got a lot of press.

For those who don’t live in the Northeast, Market Basket is a family-owned New England grocery chain. A bitter family feud led to the ouster of the revered CEO, Arthur T. Demoulas. Market Basket’s workers backed his reinstatement with protests and rallies, which ratcheted up after the company threatened to fire some of them. Public opinion was heavily in the workers’ favor. Today the majority owners of the company announced their decision to sell their shares to Demoulas, who not only gets his job back but control of the company to boot.

It’s not everyday that you see relatively low-paid supermarket workers demonstrating on behalf of their CEO. But what’s really unusual here is the display of an all-too-rare commodity in an American workplace: trust between workers and management.

The Great Recession should have been dramatic evidence to those who manage and staff the nation’s workplaces that we’re all in this together. But, of course, it wasn’t. Employers cut payrolls and benefits—remember defined benefit pensions?—some of which perhaps was unavoidable. They also outsourced jobs and even entire operations to lower-cost markets, creating armies of freelancers who work without full salaries or even a 401(k) plan. Yet many companies, if not most, continued to provide upper-management lavish pay packages and perks that further distanced them from the people whose labor was essential to their long-term success.

Some people feel workers will never recover the ground they’ve lost. But there are encouraging signs that labor may be gaining some leverage.

Like an economist who has correctly predicted nine of the past two recessions, I have repeatedly stressed that the U.S. economy is running out of workers. Even though many Baby Boomers are continuing to work past traditional retirement age, the numbers of boomers who have retired exceeds the flow of new entrants into the labor force.

Up till now labor shortages were masked by steep employment declines during the recession. But the recovery has slowly reduced unemployment. The Congressional Budget Office just forecast improved economic growth rates over the next few years. And the Wall Street Journal, among others, recently reported that shortages of unskilled labor are forcing up wage rates in some parts of the economy. And other indicators show that the job picture is brightening for those looking for work.

No question, this recovery remains very disappointing. We haven’t recovered enough lost jobs. Real wage gains remain elusive. There are few if any signs that the economic gap between rich and poor is narrowing. But even abysmal growth will, over time, lead to spot labor shortages. And with immigration reform stalled, boosting the nation’s labor supply with more newcomers is not going to happen anytime soon, which will give workers more bargaining power.

Employers may already be responding. Gallup reports that 58% of workers—both full- and part-time—are “completely satisfied” with their job security. That’s a new high, which exceeds levels just before the recession and even the levels during the dot-com euphoria of the late ’90s. Gallup also found that 71% of workers were completely satisfied with their relations with co-workers, 63% with the flexibility of their working hours, and even 60% with their boss or immediate supervisor.

Confident employees are more likely to push back against their bosses and to seek other jobs if current employers fail to meet their needs. If today’s attitudes do translate into more employee assertiveness, we can expect to see not only higher wages and improved retirement benefits, but also increased demands for restructuring jobs and job responsibilities. This would mean jobs with more flexibility, jobs that use technology to allow teams to work together from different locales, and jobs that measure outputs and judge workers on results, not the number of hours they worked or time spent at meetings in the office.

Achieving such results will stretch both managers and employees. And it will require major efforts to rebuild trust. For now, I will just wish you a happy Labor Day, with a special shout-out to the folks at Market Basket.

Philip Moeller is an expert on retirement, aging, and health. He is an award-winning business journalist and a research fellow at the Sloan Center on Aging & Work at Boston College. Reach him at moeller.philip@gmail.com or @PhilMoeller on Twitter.

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