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Social Justice Salaries: How Do Dartmouth Workers Come Out?

Let’s take a page from Occupy Wall Street’s playbook and see how Dartmouth’s workers fare in our society of unequal wealth distribution. They aren’t part of the nasty 1%, that’s for sure, but how do they do among the remaining 99% of workers?

As an example, we can imagine a Dartmouth married couple, Frank and Gladys Emmit: they are both cook helpers at Thayer — the lowest paid workers on Dartmouth’s salary scale. Both are members of the SEIU union. Neither finished high school, they are 35 years old, and have worked for five years at the College. To calculate their family income, let’s use the Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) methodology:

Comprehensive household income equals pretax cash income plus income from other sources. Pretax cash income is the sum of wages, salaries, self-employment income, rents, taxable and nontaxable interest, dividends, realized capital gains, cash transfer payments, and retirement benefits plus taxes paid by businesses (corporate income taxes and the employer’s share of Social Security, Medicare, and federal unemployment insurance payroll taxes) and employees’ contributions to 401(k) retirement plans. Other sources of income include all in-kind benefits (Medicare, Medicaid, employer-paid health insurance premiums, food stamps, school lunches and breakfasts, housing assistance, and energy assistance)

Taking into account the items above that apply to Gladys and Frank (bolded), here is their total income as recognized by the CBO:


First off, the CBO applies a co-efficient based on family size: though total income for Gladys and Frank is $92,536.46, the CBO would recognize only $65,443.04 of their revenue if the couple had no kids, and only $46,268.23 if they had two children. Where do these two figures put Gladys and Frank among other Americans? Here’s the CBO’s table:


Assuming a linear distribution of incomes within the quintiles, if Gladys and Frank had no children, their family income would be comfortably inside the fourth quintile; by my calculation the Emmetts would earn more than 72.5% of all American families. If they had two kids, they would be in the middle quintile, outstripping the income of 55.3% of all American families.

Let’s think about that for a moment: a couple of cook helpers with not even a high school education — the lowest paid of all Dartmouth’s unionized workers — both of them working in New Hampshire, a low-cost, low-tax state (not to mention the College’s easy-does-it, fire-nobody working atmosphere), are paid more by Dartmouth than over half of all American families that have two children, and more than almost three quarters of American families who have no offspring. That is absurd — and wasteful.

If Dartmouth’s goal is to make the least skilled members of our society earn far more money than their equivalents in Hanover’s surrounding communities, then the College has been successful. But if the administration’s goal is to make Dartmouth the finest educational institution possible, then awarding Gladys and Frank Emmett (and the majority of more than 3,000 or so staffers like them) far more compensation than most other Americans is a damned funny way of going about it. Just what are the College’s priorities?

Addendum: Under Dartmouth’s generous compensation scheme, Gladys and Frank get six weeks of vacation and personal time, plus the usual holidays — far more than they would receive in the private sector. Vacation time is not included in the CBO’s calculation of family income.

Addendum: Thayer cook helpers straight out of 11th grade who are lucky enough to get a job at Dartmouth at union scale, who are single, and who choose the College’s most basic health care plan, will have a CBO-adjusted total income higher than that of at least half of all American families.

Yet another way to look at our happy cook helpers: as we’ve seen before, their basic salaries are about 50% of what a young Dartmouth professor in the Humanities earns, and they have the same benefits. Is that social justice?


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