How Much Do You Make?

NEW YORK — Do your co-workers know how much money you earn? Do your friends? Does your family? Salary transparency is a hot topic — new laws have recently gone into effect around the country requiring employers to disclose salary ranges as a way to tackle pay inequities.

Curious how individuals feel about this movement toward transparency, we approached nearly 400 people on the sidewalks of New York late last year to see if anyone would tell us how much they make. A small fraction of the people we flagged down spoke to us. Here are 27 of them.

Alison Williams, 60, operations coordinator ($40,000): “How much do I make? Not enough! But not for nothing, I do love my job even if I am underpaid.”

Carl Lewandowski, 23, educator at the National Museum of Mathematics ($60,000)

Andreea Mincic, 47, set and costume designer ($27,000): “I made a lot of money on unemployment during COVID. And now I’m back to $27,000 a year. I wish I wouldn’t struggle so much. I wish I would get paid more for my value.”

Alex Schwartz, 28, lawyer ($215,000): “I work in big law, so it’s pretty standard across all big firms, that’s why I told you.”

Most people we approached completely ignored us.

When someone would stop, the conversations were often like therapy: People wrestled with the idea of sharing such personal information and struggled to understand why they were so hesitant.

Noah Barnes, 39, senior vice president for finance and operations ($150,000)

Kaela Maloney, 24, recruiting coordinator ($50,000): “I just put in my two weeks today and got a new job!” (The new job is as an executive assistant. It pays more.)

Freddy Perez, 27, refrigeration systems operating engineer ($120,000)

Ted Held, 30, account director ($110,000-$140,000): “I’m giving a range because I don’t think I would ever want to tell someone exactly what I make. My parents taught me not to openly talk about money.”

Lara Pham, 45, program director ($160,000): “It feels like your salary is what you’re worth and you don’t want to be transparent because you’re like, ‘Oh, maybe I should be making $200,000 at my age.’ With friends, we share our salary requirements, like, ‘I need to make this much.’ But then we don’t share how much we make.”

Joan Sergay, 27, theater director (varies by project) and audiobook director ($200 per listening hour): “The job market now looks different than our parents’ generation. My dad had a job at one place for 30 years. When you’re bouncing around from job to job, it can be harder to understand what the norm is.”

Parvathi Kumar, 50, freelance photographer ($125/hour): “In India, if you work in a company, everyone knows each other’s salaries. It’s just normal. If you’re doing the same job and someone else is getting more, it’s worthwhile to know. And I think people do bring it up with their boss.”

Mike Nemeyer, 33, financial analyst ($95,000 plus bonuses)

Celia Babini, 21, musician ($75,000+): “Financial literacy is something that a lot of people don’t have. And that’s how the wealth gap gets larger. People don’t really know how to ask for the correct amount of money because it’s taboo.”

In November, a law went into effect that requires New York City companies with at least four employees to disclose a salary range for any job listing. Similar laws have recently passed in California, Colorado and Washington state with the aim, according to their backers, of addressing pay gaps that largely hurt women and people of color.

In 2021, the median household income in New York City was $70,663 — roughly the same as in the rest of the country. But across the United States, women earned 83% of what men did that year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And Black and Hispanic women earned far less than their counterparts in other racial and ethnic groups.

Kevin Genao, 27, train technician ($36.84/hour): “I’m a full union railroad worker. I’m part of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Everyone who works there makes the same for that particular job. When you become a supervisor or foreman, you make more.”

Carrie Peterson, 28, public health researcher ($75,000)

T.D. Hall, 50s, association management (prefers not to say): “We are in a moment where the gap between the wealthy and everybody else is widening, and there’s this desire to understand the pay structure. Women are paid much less, people of color are paid even less, and if you’re a woman of color — even less. I won’t tell you what I make because not everybody lives in a community where you can be in the media talking about how much you make and safely go home at night.”

Mandy Vadnai, 46, between jobs, last job: school administrator ($105,000)

Mashkur Al-Maktoum, 52, superintendent of a residential building ($100,000): “Why would I want my salary to be a secret unless I want other people to not have the same job? I’m an American and a veteran, so I want to see other people live comfortably the same way that I live.”

We were hoping to find someone on the very high end of the earning spectrum, since we know this spectrum of New Yorkers exists, but sadly, no one would talk to us on the record. A woman in her 20s, who declined to give her name, told us she was a model and had at times made $1 million to $2 million per year.

A stockbroker dressed in a plaid suit with a floral pocket square was happy to talk … at first. He eagerly told us that he made $300,000 a year. But as we continued to speak, he became embarrassed that he didn’t make more. In the end, he withdrew his quotes.

Dexter Christian, 51, banker ($70,000 plus bonus)

Arya Zand, 32, wealth management ($160,000-$200,000 salary goal): “I got married during COVID, and I decided to take ownership of my future, so I became self-employed in 2022. It’s a lot safer working 9 to 5. But I decided I needed to work at my own pace and ambition.”

Aida Fogel, 33, advertising strategist ($180,000-$200,000): “Women usually expect the employer to come up with a number and not negotiate after that. I negotiated. I asked for more, and I was surprised that they were willing to give me what I wanted.”

Darlene Vega, 61, looking for work: “I was taught you were not allowed to ask about salary. So if and when you get the job, then you can ask about the salary. You might be disappointed, but you’re so happy to have a job that you can’t complain.”

Kaitlyn Mustico, 25, underwriter ($90,000 plus bonus): “A lot of Gen X and Boomers were still in the industry when I entered the workforce, so it was hard for me to navigate salary because no one would talk about it. This is one of the positive things Gen Z has brought about. To be like, ‘Yeah, bro, I make $90,000 a year.’ And then to talk about it: ‘This is my degree and this is how many years I worked to get to this point.’”

Gerard Brewster, 61, maintenance supervisor ($75,000+)

Raymond Nuñez, 32, security supervisor ($28/hour): “I think it’s really good they passed this law because when you’re looking for a job, you can choose what type of job is offering the most money. And you gotta go where the money is at!”

Marc Lafia, 67, artist (>$12,000): “I don’t think anyone in New York can live for under $100,000. I live well because my wife works and I made money when I was younger. New York doesn’t support its artists. This whole street is all about the rent — money, money, money! I spend more than I make. I’m a losing proposition! But I keep doing it.”

Michaelangelo Matos, 36, musician, plus odd jobs ($40,000): “Who cares what we make and what we don’t make? What does it all matter when we’re in the dirt? I’m trying to be as happy as possible.”

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