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Media Workers: It Could Be Worse. It Could Be 1977.

On a sojourn upstate, my wife and I stumbled on a little antique market and, there, a 1977 issue of New York magazine. In this particular issue: Seattle Slew’s chances in the Triple Crown (good), the opening of Studio 54 (bananas), and a review of Annie Hall, which is printed below in its historically embarrassing entirety.

While we’re feeling superior: check out the cover story. For our friends in the media industry, it should be considered inspirational. For if you’re struggling every day to publish magazines and newspapers that, unfortunately, probably won’t be along much longer (or websites that, unfortunately, will) – at least you’re not making $23,200 a year.*

That princely sum was the 1977 annual salary of Eileen Shields, Time‘s New York reporter. On the plus side, it was a 10% jump over her $21,000 1975 salary. In 2010, twenty-one grand is below the Federal poverty level for a family of four.

Ms. Shields wasn’t alone – the Times‘ Judy Klemesrud made only $37,000. Eugene Maleska, that era’s Will Shortz, got $26,000 (earning a place on the magazine’s “Cushiest Jobs in Town” call-out). Peter Fleischmann, Chairman of The New Yorker, only got $76,800. I know people that make more than that! (Demonstrating that 1977’s priorities weren’t completely out of whack with our own, A. O. Sulzberger pulled in a much more robust $285,000 – just over a million dollars in 2010 money.)

Hundreds of salaries are detailed. Sandy, the dog from Annie (which is also reviewed in this issue), earned $200 a week, twice as much as the doorman with whom he shares the cover. Mario Cuomo, then Secretary of State, made $47,800 – bested by “Duane”, a pimp in Midtown who made $54,000. (See, media drones! Some of you are making more than stereotypical late ’70s pimps!)

The list is amazing – so many names you recognize in jobs that you didn’t know they held. (David Dinkins was City Clerk! John Marr was the city’s Chief Epidemiologist!) Here is the list, in full.

New York has done this since, multiple times, most recently (as far as I can tell), in 2005. This newest list is also very much worth a look, if only to see the athletes and now-disgraced titans of industry and who make their 1977 counterparts look like relative hobos. (Lehman’s Dick Fuld made $35,000,000 in 2005; Frank Cary, CEO of IBM, earned $595,000 28 years prior. Raise your hand if you still do business with Lehman Brothers.)

These comparisons aren’t fair, of course. A dollar in 1977 isn’t the same as a dollar today. (In fact, a 1977 dollar is worth about three-and-a-half times a 2010 dollar.) But it’s more fun comparing your salary to Rose Ann Scamardella‘s $60,000 annual earnings than her actual $214,000-in-2010-dollars haul. (“Tony”, who passed out flyers for the Harem massage parlor, gets boosted from $3 an hour to only $10, so feel free to act superior.)

So ignore those dollar conversions. Our goal here is to make you feel rich, that you’re worth more than the Director of the FBI ($42,500) or the Chancellor of schools ($53,000) or, at the very least, the Chair of the Arts Department at Paterson State College ($16,993). And here’s another way to feel better. Punch your salary, however meager, into the Global Rich List calculator, and you’ll learn that, pretty much no matter what, you’re in the 95% of wealth in the world. (Don’t ruminate on what that means for the rest of the world. Just feel rich.)

I’ll leave you with one last ego boost. Robert Moses, the architect of much of modern New York City transportation, earned $35,000 in 1977. In 2005, New York‘s survey discovered that Anna Wintour‘s assistant made $40,000. I think we can all agree that when assistants at magazines earn more than public servants, it’s a sign that the universe is shifting into proper alignment.

Just don’t adjust for 2005 dollars.

* Unless, of course, you do. In which case… man. I mean… man.

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