What Did Your First Job Pay Then and What Does It Pay Now?


What did your first job pay? What does it pay now? Here are some of the many fascinating answers we’ve received, with more to come.  

I graduated USC school of journalism in 1963 and got a job on a daily paper called the San Gabriel Valley Daily Tribune. It is still in existence in L.A. county. I was fully trained to write about everything from fires to sports. However it was the olden days and my job was on the Women’s Page. I earned $60 a week gross and lived at home to pay off my car. I spent an entire summer writing about brides and their veils of illusion. That was enough.

I took the civil service exam for L.A. county and became a social worker visiting seniors who received old age assistance. At least it was equal pay for equal work and I started at $369 per month, advancing to $389 per month by June 1964 when I got married. We were able to live on that salary as my husband was a medical student. I have no idea what these salaries might be today but I am sure journalists still don’t earn much. [Editor’s note: The inflation calculator from the Bureau of Labor Statistics says $389 in 1974 money is $1,877 today.] I eventually used my journalism at a social worker three salary to recruit foster homes for child welfare services until I quit when Joey was born in 1968.


My first temporary non-babysitting job was while I was an undergraduate at McGill. In 1963, through the university employment office, I got a job putting an eyebrow pencil and a clear plastic eyebrow template into cellophane bags, placing a foldover label at the top, and stapling them shut. I was paid by the piece, and I don’t remember how much, but given the times, it could not have been more than a couple of cents per bag. I performed my duties in the empty basement of my employer’s brother’s shoe store. It was in the days before iPods or even Walkmen, so it was BORING. When the entire job was finished, I went into tutoring, which was a distinct improvement.

My first full-time job was in 1967 at the IBM Datacenter in Montreal, as a junior programmer.  Even though I had had a full summer of training (by IBM), I was singularly mediocre. Nonetheless, I persisted, as the pay (beginning at $3,900 and reaching $4,100 per annum by the time I left a year later), and the benefits were far better than for other jobs I could have gotten at the time. As I recall, a job at a major bank as a management trainee paid probably $500-600 less, and a job with the Canadian government–probably in the frozen wastelands of Northern Quebec–paid about the same as the banks. I don’t know what my IBM job would pay nowadays, but I would think it would be at least 10 times what I was getting in 1967-68. BTW, as a woman, I was paid less than my equally feckless male counterparts.

I left to go to graduate school, as I realized early on in the job that a) I wasn’t particularly good at it and b) my best friend, in graduate school at Harvard in English lit., was having a great time. The fellowship I received at Stanford was enough to keep me housed, fed, and clothed–and besides, I was in California, not freezing to death in Montreal.

Your first job: Field ecologist at a biological station in Baja, Mexico. I counted the sea urchin population in the Mar de Cortez, and measured soil respiration in the desert.
What it paid then: $800/month.
What it pays now: Said job with said person no longer exists. Most people at the biological station are graduate students. I hope they are earning more? Just read something about how it’s harder to find field work.

First (post-college job): NYC Teacher
What it paid then: a bit over $40,000
What it pays now: $45,530
What it should pay: Over $100,000 at the VERY LEAST. The children are our future.

I am a woman of a certain age who had my first real job when John Kennedy was president, and before the women’s movement began. I was a “girl Friday” in a small law office in DC and probably received an annual salary of $5,200. I filed papers, typed an occasional memo, covered the phones when the secretary was busy, and got coffee for my bosses whenever they wanted it. I doubt the job even exists today. [Editor’s note: This position has almost certainly been replaced by an intern.]
Sarah II:
First job: Research assistant at a think tank in DC
Paid: 35k in 2005, or $42.6K in 2014 dollars, which felt like a million dollars at the time
Now: 40-42K according to glassdoor, assuming that the lower range is for starting salaries. So pretty much kept pace.
Sarah II’s mom:
First job: Elementary school teacher in central Illinois
Paid: $8,000 ($45.5K in 2014 dollars, which also felt like a million dollars)
Now: $36K according to posted salary schedule from union contract for a teacher with BA, certification, and no years of teaching experience. Definite decline in real value.
My first job out of college–during the (gasp!) Nixon administration–was as assistant to the librarian at the American Gas Association, a trade organization representing natural gas companies  in Washington. No doubt impressed my degree in human development and family studies, AGA  paid me $100 a week in 1970 to file copies of “Oilman’s Daily” and such, and to stamp those industry publications for in-house circulation to The Men. I lasted nine months there before heading for New York, where I found a job at a women’s magazine with a $25-a-week raise over my D.C. salary!
I have no idea if, in this digital age, AGA still has an actual library in its headquarters, and, therefore,I do not know if some assistant is still stamping “for circulation to…” on magazines and newspapers — and, if so, what that poor innocent might be earning. [Editor’s note: This position too has almost certainly been replaced by an intern.]
The summer after my freshman year of college, I was really, really into the idea of “qualifying” for a “grownup job.” At 18, the idea of working in an office reeked of glamour to me, and I applied for a position I saw on Monster that advertised itself as an entry level marketing job.  They called me in for an interview, and I was so psyched that I went and bought clothes at Gap, which seemed extremely adult to me.  Despite the naivete that got me THAT far, it took about 15 minutes into the interview for me to realize that the job was a scheme that involved buying “demo kits” that were hundreds of dollars in order to get commissions from people you knew when they bought the product the company sold. I felt like a total idiot, flushed, and mumbled something about “not having a car so I couldn’t do it” to the interviewer. POOF went my dreams of being Pam and having grocery store birthday cake and possibly finding a Jim.
The interviewer ended up offering me a position in the office cold-calling other teenagers to come into the office for an “interview,” which I took because it paid $7 an hour, almost $2 over minimum wage, which sounded like a fortune at the time. Three weeks later, after dealing with some pretty interesting frustrated callers — they would give us a list and insisted we go through it, number by number, over and over, until we’d reached everyone and got a “yes” or a “no” — I quit via voicemail and got a job at a dog grooming salon.  I thought puppies were a better karmic bet, though I ended up getting a chipped tooth at THAT job and dealing with worker’s comp for the first time.
1998: program assistant at [large LA museum and cultural center]: $28K. And that was good! Negotiated up because was an intern previous summer. Knowing the nonprofit world, I imagine that the starting salary is the roughly the same. [Editor’s note: Sadly no. Current iteration of that job pays $34,000 whereas $28,000 in 1998 is the equivalent of $40,800 in 2014.]
11 years old, babysitting (which is boring, I think), but also some short stints as a junior high/high school accompanist that I traded for sometimes a little cash but mostly barters because I did not understand money. Then, 16, bagel-shop everything, $7.25 an hour.




What it pays now: PROBABLY AROUND $150K PLUS BONUS not to mention “Cadillac” healthcare and dental.



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