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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.

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Don Bauder Sept. 26, 2009 @ 5:13 p.m.

Response to post #11: I thought it was quite strong at the time. I believed it was quite clear that Nancy Hoover, through the J. David operation, funneled a bundle of money to Hedgecock's campaign. The FPPC, as well as the grand jury, thought so. Best, Don Bauder


SurfPuppy619 Sept. 23, 2009 @ 2:25 p.m.

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,

I am shocked the average dentist is at $124K. I thought they did far better (or at least mine does).

I have a hard time with the $128K for lawyers-and can only think that the few very highly paid lawyers are skewing the number high. Aerospace engineers pay of $100K seems low, most I know make in the $120+ range.

Fun to look at and debate though.

One must remember with the average teacher salary, listed at $67K, is that is for a 37 week work year, if you were to annualize that pay out to 48-50 work weeks it would be around $100K.


pellis Sept. 23, 2009 @ 3:59 p.m.

You should talk to those Vegas dealers about the tips they get. My understanding is that they are kind of like bartenders where the hourly wage is about as low as the casino can possibly pay them because they make enough in tips to compensate. It's not hard to imagine when the table games start at $5 and go up. They all rotate through variety of tables and stakes periodically and the games don't last very long.


Don Bauder Sept. 23, 2009 @ 4:45 p.m.

Response to post #1: About 20 years ago, when I was doing TV once a week on Channel 10, I did a piece on San Diego dentists. But I can't remember whether they were underpaid or overpaid when compared with dentists in other cities. I think I recall saying that San Diego must be overtoothed or underdentisted; that suggests their pay was comparatively high. Don't ask me why. Yes, there are a lot of starving lawyers, but many are grossly overpaid. That number will come down in the next survey. I am not one who is critical of teachers. Yes, they get several months off. But theirs is often a thankless job. And now in California, their job security is low. Best, Don Bauder


Don Bauder Sept. 23, 2009 @ 4:49 p.m.

Response to post #2: Yes, Vegas dealers get fat tips, as we say in the story. Do they inform the IRS of those tips? I think I know the answer to that one. They certainly don't tell the tax authorities about the money passed under the table. The people who skim the money out of the casinos and secrete it in offshore tax havens make a lot of money; they are usually the top executives. Best, Don Bauder


Russ Lewis Sept. 23, 2009 @ 5:16 p.m.

"The people who skim the money out of the casinos and secrete it in offshore tax havens...." Sounds painful.


SurfPuppy619 Sept. 23, 2009 @ 7:43 p.m.

"The people who skim the money out of the casinos and secrete it in offshore tax havens...." Sounds painful.

By russl

We knwo they USED to skim bigtime, I have to wonder if they still do-considering the loss of the gaming license if caught.


Don Bauder Sept. 23, 2009 @ 9:55 p.m.

Response to post #5: It's painful only to those who don't want to pile up money and hide it from taxation offshore. It IS painful if you get caught. Best, Don Bauder


Don Bauder Sept. 23, 2009 @ 9:57 p.m.

Response to post #6: You sound like the people who say the mob USED to run Las Vegas. Hey, SurfPuppy, the mayor (who has a condo in Coronado) is a mob lawyer. Best, Don Bauder


SurfPuppy619 Sept. 23, 2009 @ 10:17 p.m.

LOL.......yeah, Mayor Oscar Goodman-he was actually in the movie "Casino" playing the role he played in real life-himself as mob lawyer for Lefty Rosenthal and Anthony Spilottro


Don Bauder Sept. 24, 2009 @ 10:08 a.m.

Response to post #9: Yes, Goodman, who has represented Tony (The Ant) Spilotro as well as numerous other hoodlums, represented Roger Hedgecock in his second trial related to his financing by J. David Dominelli, et al. Hedgecock narrowly escaped in the first trial (one of 12 jurors held out) and went down 12-0 in the second. But the appellate court decided that there had been some bad procedures, and ordered another trial. The D.A. decided a third trial wasn't worth it and there was a settlement. Best, Don Bauder


SurfPuppy619 Sept. 26, 2009 @ 10:31 a.m.

Hedgecock lucked out with that SUPER sweet plea deal he got- a single misdemeanor that was then expunged after 1 year to a clean record.

Makes me wonder about the entire case, and how solid-or weak- it really was.


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