In San Diego, those who do good do not do well — from an income standpoint, that is. The professions devoted to helping people down on their luck, such as social work, are not at all remunerative. But there is some justice in the world: workers who specialize in causing people to be down on their luck, such as casino employees, do even worse financially than the do-gooders. (Of course, the casino workers help create a social problem, gambling addiction, which provides more work for the do-gooders.)
Here’s something that appears to be an economic anomaly: financially, do-gooders make more money in Las Vegas, known as Sin City, than they make in San Diego. But gambling employees do better in San Diego than in Las Vegas, the center of the gaming industry.
In short, the wages of sin are lousy even in sin’s hometown. And the wages of those who try to conquer sin are higher in the city that brags about its vices.
The average wage in the San Diego–Carlsbad–San Marcos area (the San Diego metropolitan statistical area, or the county, as defined by the federal government) is $47,250 a year. That’s not high, since the cost of living is 36 percent above the national average, according to the American Chamber of Commerce Research Association, whose data are distributed by the Council for Community and Economic Research. Often San Diego’s cost of living is more than 50 percent above the national average.
San Diegans are squeezed by a boa constrictor: incomes are moderately above the national level, but the cost of living is very steep. That’s not true in many other metro areas. Houston has an average wage of $42,880, but its cost of living is 10 percent below the national average. Dallas is at $42,900, and its cost of living is almost 8 percent below the national average. Closer to home, San Jose’s cost of living, like San Diego’s, is frequently more than 50 percent above the nation’s, but the average wage is $64,310. Tech pays well and is a larger percentage of total employment than it is in San Diego. Sacramento’s average wage is just a hair below San Diego’s, but its cost of living is only 19 percent above the national average.
In San Diego, do-gooders’ pay is generally below the county’s average. Last year’s data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that in the county, the average rehabilitation counselor makes only $37,000 a year. Substance-abuse and behavioral disorder counselors make $37,420; mental health and substance-abuse social workers make $40,550; marriage and family therapists make $50,020; health educators make $38,010; home health aides $23,540; psychiatric aides $27,480; and members of the clergy $49,040.
Preschool teachers gross only $28,810, although elementary and middle school teachers do better: around $67,000. Those teaching adult literacy and remedial education bring in only $39,820.
Then there are the workers who claim they relieve people’s sorrows but get an argument from those who insist that they exacerbate societal problems. San Diego bartenders average only $21,460, despite the spirits that they lift. Reporters in the media gross $42,770 and their editors $46,390 — both making below-average wages, or exactly what they deserve, in many cynics’ eyes.
By comparison, dentists gross an average of $124,720, physicians and surgeons $202,250, aerospace engineers $100,710, lawyers $128,610, college physics teachers $101,490, and corporate chief executives $191,920. (Remember, that is an average for corporate chieftains — including big and small companies. The annual mean for chief executives of the 500 largest companies is $10.4 million, according to AFL-CIO PayWatch data. Paul Jacobs of San Diego’s Qualcomm made $17.4 million last year, according to PayWatch. Sempra’s Donald Felsinger grossed $11 million, SAIC’s Kenneth Dahlberg $5.8 million, Jack in the Box’s Linda Lang $5.8 million, Sequenom’s Harry Stylli $4.8 million, and ResMed’s Kieran Gallahue $5.2 million. Walter J. Zable, 93-year-old head of Cubic Corporation, grossed $1 million last year.)
Now let’s look at salaries in the county’s gambling casinos: dealers make $26,140, gambling surveillance officers $31,510, sports book writers and runners $29,080, and change makers and booth cashiers $23,240.
Believe it or not, gambling employees do much worse in Vegas (although the Vegas dealers get juicy tips and a lot of money passes under the table). Dealers average $14,690 a year, almost $12,000 less than in San Diego. Sports book writers and runners make $22,110, almost $7000 a year less than in San Diego. Cashiers and surveillance officers make a bit more in Sin City than in San Diego.
But Vegas pays its do-gooders more than San Diego does. Mental health and substance-abuse counselors make $57,070, or about $20,000 more than in San Diego. Vegas health educators gross $62,960, or almost $25,000 more than their counterparts in San Diego. Members of the clergy rake in $58,510 a year, almost $10,000 more than they make in San Diego. (Quickie Vegas weddings must be remunerative for those of the cloth. Or perhaps local citizens and visitors have more reasons to seek divine forgiveness, particularly following a weekend.)
Therefore, in Vegas, sin seems to pay off better for those trying to thwart it than those promoting it. The average salary for all industries in Vegas is a mere $38,720; it certainly appears that the low gambling pay contributes to that meager sum. Vegas does have one advantage: its cost of living is only 8 percent higher than the nation’s average.
The fact that do-gooders are so well compensated in Vegas, while the gambling industry folks seem to go penniless, appears to be an economic abnormality. A few years ago, it wouldn’t have been surprising that gambling employees in Vegas were underpaid. It was the only game in town — or almost only. Where else would a blackjack dealer go? But now that casinos are all over the country, one would think that the Vegas workers would go elsewhere for higher remuneration — say, to San Diego (unless those Vegas tips and under-the-table payments are really huge). Similarly, do-gooders, seeing the juicy pay in Vegas, would probably invade, bringing salary levels down.
But maybe supply/demand economics doesn’t explain this riddle. This may be nature’s symbiosis at work. A symbiotic relationship is one that is mutually beneficial for both participants — like the human providing sustenance and the dog providing love and affection. Vegas bookmakers and runners provide a bevy of fleeced residents and visitors to the social workers, who in turn provide much-needed services to the casino employees who do the fleecing but empty their pockets enjoying the pleasures of Sin City.