In a world where everyone discusses the most intimate matters with stunning frankness -- and on national TV, for goodness' sake! -- salaries are the last taboo. If we don't talk about money, goes the neo-Victorian platitude, we'll have more time and energy to talk about the finer things. To which we say: Like what, for instance? Politics? Maybe if the culture were more open about money, it might actually make us nicer. And at least we wouldn't spend so much time obsessing about it, and envying our friends, and cursing ourselves for not choosing investment banking as a career. It was in the spirit of this financial glasnost that we began an exhaustive survey of New York's most important professions. We studied doctors, dog walkers, bankers, baristas, headhunters, advertising honchos, prostitutes -- just about anyone who does anything in this town to make a buck. And surprisingly, most of them -- in the strictest of confidence, of course -- spilled the beans. It was heartening that only one profession preserved the taboo by maintaining silence on this matter: the clergy. Now, this may have something to do with their sacred trust. On the other hand, they may not be entirely without the sin of envy in their hearts. "If you find out what everyone else is making," said one rabbi, "give me a call."
Who Makes How Much
The tipping point
Bartenders have a high burnout rate. It isn't only the odd hours. At a downtown watering hole, a night's shift will put $200 to $250 (minimum wage plus tips) in your pocket, but you might have to slide patrons a few free drinks to get the tips rolling. At some of the hotter clubs where there's music, you don't get to build a clientele, but the volume of customers can yield $300 to $400 a night. Barkeeps at a fashionable spot like Asia de Cuba rake in $500 to $600 in an evening. Still, these guys rarely work more than three nights a week. If you want steady money serving drinks, a hotel is the place to be. Hotel bartenders are union members; they make $17 an hour plus tips -- and benefits. A good bartender at the Plaza's Oak Bar can make $50,000 to $70,000 per year including tips; $100,000 isn't unheard of.
A slight pain in the bank
Remember those coffee mugs that read, if you're so smart, why ain't you rich? These days, a doctor's income, while nothing to sneeze at, is unlikely to make a software engineer, or even a day trader, jealous. Making matters worse, there remains the widespread perception that doctors are overpaid. "They resent the fact that patients resent what they earn," says physician-placement specialist Richard Glehan, "the idea that a heart surgeon is making $500,000 off of sick people. Whereas nobody questions what Michael Eisner of Disney made when he exercised $72 million in options a couple of years ago." Add the fact that the closer you get to any metropolitan area, the lower the demand and the lower the compensation -- unless you're a top specialist. "Traditionally, the Midwest and the South have the lowest number of doctors per 100,000 people," says Glehan, "and they make more."
It's hard to generalize about doctors' salaries; a Park Avenue plastic surgeon who only accepts cash (and charges what he pleases) is worlds away from the foreign-medical-school graduate practicing as an internist at a hip center in downtown Brooklyn.
Broadly speaking, primary-care doctors make the lowest salaries. A first-year internist makes $115,000 (in Nebraska, that number climbs to $160,000). Pediatricians start at $110,000.
Specialists make more: An OB/GYN starts at around $135,000 (but there's $10,000 to $15,000 more in it for you if you're a woman) and by mid-career is earning $300,000. An ophthalmologist at mid-career, depending on how specialized the work is, can make from $300,000 to $800,000. But the guys who do corrective eye surgery operate outside the managed-care system and easily earn high-six-figure salaries. Anesthesiology is becoming hot, starting at $130,000 and going up to $400,000. Radiologists start at about $140,000 and reach $500,000.
Cardiothoracic surgeons earn a minimum of $200,000; half a million is not a problem for most, and some make more than a million. Noninvasive cardiologists and gastroenterologists earn $300,000 to $400,000.
General surgeons make about $150,000 in their first year and $300,000 at mid-career. Plastic surgeons start at $140,000, and the sky's the limit after that. According to the Greater New York Hospital Association, registered nurses in the metropolitan area average $47,742, although hospital RNs can go higher: At Beth Israel, the starting salary for a nurse right out of school is $51,000. And supervisory nurses who have worked there for years make as much as $70,000 or $80,000. Physical therapists average $45,000, and pharmacists $52,000.
A whole lot of commerce going on
"This is a business of heartbreak, a business of dreams," says Suzanne Hebron, managing director of commercial investments at Corcoran Group, which claims an annual volume of more than $2 billion. "Everybody sees those big deals. But things can fall apart in a million different ways. You have to have a lot in the hopper." For the first year, Hebron says, expect to suffer a lot. "You're pounding the pavement, getting listings, learning about buildings, calling the seller, getting him to the point that he trusts you with the listing." Then, "when you have your listings, you have everything -- it's like having gold." By year two, says Hebron, "you should reap at least six figures -- or you're in the wrong business." Beginners split commissions with the house 60-40 in the house's favor. The split shifts to the broker's favor as he gets experience -- reaching as high as 70-30. Commissions in commercial real estate are negotiable (versus the standard 6 percent on the residential side). "Nobody's held to anything. It's whatever you can get." A 5 percent commission on a $10 million property is not unheard of.
Old media, old salaries
"It's not so bad as it used to be," says Lorraine Shanley, a publishing recruiter, "before Harry Potter." Publishers have been suffering brain drain, with promising talent defecting to the Internet or other more glamorous businesses. Random House's recent move to a $30,000 starting salary may have turned the tide, but Shanley suggests that some sex appeal comes from a renewed focus on electronic publishing, big advances, and the presence of world-straddling media conglomerates like Viacom, Time Warner, and Bertelsmann in the book business. Once you get in the door, the real salary escalators are in marketing, and especially publicity, where the promotions come fast and furious and a decent publicist should make $65,000. A marketing director should make $85,000 to $100,000 or more. In editorial, where everyone seems to want to work, the salaries start low and stay there until you get a big job offer across town or have a hit author. Senior editors make $55,000 to $90,000; executive editors pull down closer to $100,000 or more. Establish a list and make your name in the business, and you should be able to make in the low six figures; the editor-in-chief of a good-size imprint makes $175,000, and the publisher of a larger imprint should make $250,000 or more.
Haul the right moves
"It takes a special kinda person to handle garbage," says a manager at a private waste-disposal company. "Take some guy out of Wall Street, stick him on the back of a truck, and the second it rains or snows he's outta there. Now you've got garbage that isn't picked up -- a very extreme tragedy." So what, exactly, does it cost to prevent such a calamity? City-employed sanitation workers -- whose job requires a high-school diploma or a G.E.D. -- start at $27,842 and peak, after five years, at $44,441 (though raking in overtime increases this "significantly"). Not paltry pay -- just about $4,000 less than a cop or a teacher makes -- except that in the private sector, without the diploma, sanitation workers start out pulling in $44,200.
Doormen add cachet, but they don't cash in. "I think it stinks," says a 25-year-old doorman at a West Village high-rise, referring to the piddling pay. A union doorman -- and they are all in the union -- must log 30 months on the job at $25,680 before he tops out at $32,000 (the same wages apply to front-desk workers and porters, regardless of the building's size or neighborhood). According to Bill Meyerson, of the Service Employees International Union, Local 32B-32J, which represents the city's building-service employees, the only way to move up is to become a super, for an average salary of $39,000. Add the $5,000 in Christmas-bonus money that's common in a big building, and it still isn't enough to keep the young doorman nostalgic about logging and lugging packages and guarding tenants against jilted lovers and stalkers: "This is definitely not a career."
Almost no business in show business
"You never feel that you've got enough money to live," says Sean Martin Hingston, a featured dancer in the Broadway hit Contact, who's been earning a living as an actor, singer, and dancer since he was 18. "When we started Contact, we were doing a workshop, making $311 a week. Now that it's a hit, I've been stashing the money away because I don't know when there's going to be a drought."
The minimum weekly salary for actors on Broadway last year was $1,215, and Off Broadway minimums range from $440 to $763. But Actors' Equity confirms that fewer than 15 percent of its dues-paying members work during any given week and the average annual earning for an actor in 1999 was $14,936.
If you're lucky enough to be in a hit, the ensemble, says Hingston, makes something more than the minimum; a featured part might be two to four times the minimum. For a lead, it's five to ten times the minimum, and it's "through the roof" for a star like Bernadette Peters.
In the orchestra pit on Broadway, musicians take home $1,220 a week for eight shows -- that's $63,440 if the show lasts a year. A regular gig at the New York Philharmonic pays $91,260.
Seasoned dancers at the New York City Ballet make $1,500 a week. A dancer like Ethan Steifel, who guest-stars with major companies, makes $3,000 to $5,000 a performance.
Of course, you can do a lot better in pictures -- if you can get the work. The Screen Actors Guild says its minimum day rate is $617, or $2,142 for a five-day week. For commercial work, it's a $500 session fee for shooting the commercial and a sliding scale for residuals, ending at nearly $50 every time the commercial airs. But sag reports its members' average annual incomes are under $12,840 -- not including waitressing.
It ain't all bad news
Why pursue a career in the media? Perhaps to bask in an inflated sense of personal power. Or to savor the image of millions of complete strangers cursing your name over the breakfast table. Whatever the reasons, the money is usually not chief among them.
Take magazines. On the lowest rungs of a masthead are editorial assistants and fact checkers, paid between $22,000 and $28,000. Some of the more generous parent companies, including Time Warner, pay for overtime hours, which at a high-pressure title like Entertainment Weekly can double your weekly take-home. At The New Yorker, first-year fact checkers pull in $30,000 to $35,000 (just don't dream of moving up the masthead; for one thing, there isn't one). "You'll make nothing for a while," says an editor at a major consumer magazine, "and then suddenly you hit the senior bracket as a writer or an editor and boom -- in comes the real cash."
What exactly qualifies as "real cash," of course, depends on the parent company. Freshman staff writers and reporters at Time Warner make between $35,000 and $50,000, about 10 percent more than at most other companies. Senior writers at marquee publications like Sports Illustrated and Time earn between $60,000 and $150,000; their editors make between $100,000 and $150,000. The top editors make about $250,000, with the editors-in-chief making $500,000 to $1 million. In addition, "some of the top people are getting bonuses equal to good salaries," says a Time Warner writer.
Condé Nast also has a reputation for generosity -- at least on the upper rungs. Writers and editors working at the lowest levels bring in $30,000 to $40,000. But once you graduate to the next tier, working until ten (with, of course, a radio car waiting downstairs to take you to dinner) doesn't seem so bad. Executive editors make $200,000 to $300,000. Photo editors can make from $125,000 to $200,000. Art directors make $180,000 to $225,000. "And these guys are getting massive perks," says an editor. "They're set." As are the editors-in-chief. Depending on the profitability and profile of the magazine, their pay ranges from $500,000 to $1.5 million.
On the advertising end of magazines -- the guys getting Calvin and Donna to sign for millions -- pay is better. A junior ad salesman, the typical starting job, makes between $45,000 and $70,000. Stay on that path and your pay could increase to around $150,000 as a senior salesman. Publishers' pay packets depend on the profile of the magazine, ranging from $200,000 to $800,000, with bonuses that can double these figures.
Newspapers are a whole different story. The New York Times, not surprisingly, is the best-paying paper in town. Copy editors start out at $70,000 and earn up to $120,000. Mid-level editors can make $110,000 to $250,000, while those closer to the top net $300,000 to $400,000. Reporters' salaries are established by the Newspaper Guild, so while their pay starts out high -- $70,720 -- it doesn't increase as exponentially as that of their magazine counterparts, peaking after decades at around $120,000. Columnists, however, are not members of the guild, so, depending on the luminosity of the star, pay ranges from $150,000 to $350,000.
The days of the chain-smoking, hard-drinking tabloid reporter may be over (Steve Dunleavy notwithstanding), but the pay scale at the Post and the News, which aren't members of the Newspaper Guild, still smack of that era: At the Post, cub reporters out on a beat make between $30,000 and $40,000, the same as the guys up late editing their copy. Considering that the entire paper revolves around the dish in "Page Six," it's not a shock that reporters there earn more -- between $50,000 and $60,000, the same as feature writers. Top writers net between $70,000 and $80,000, while the major columnists make between $100,000 and $150,000.