With all the noise these past few years about the economy — Occupy Wall Street, the other 99 percent, credit-default swaps, Greece’s meltdown, Freddie Mac, Solyara, etc., etc. — we’ve become a nation obsessed with the “haves” and “have nots” — and just where, exactly, we fit into that picture.
Be honest now, have you ever tried to get a peek at your pod-mate’s pay stub? Did you ever brood for days when you found out that your (inept) colleague makes more than you? Have you ever, perhaps in a petulant mood, driven slowly past the palatial homes in the Akron area — like those perched on Top O’ the Hill Drive in Bath or ensconced in the old-money hive of Fairlawn Heights — and wondered just what the owners do for a living?
Once upon a time, there was no need for such crass curiosity. One was born into a family of certain station and remained there until death. But with the Industrial Revolution and the influx of hopeful immigrants, Americans began to define themselves more by their work than by their birth, making the rote introductory question, “What do you do?” — with its subtext, “How much do you make?” — far more common than the gentile, “Are you of the Newport Higgenbothams?”
Adding to the mystery, it’s easier to live well (and look wealthy) in Akron, since a dollar goes further here. Akron’s cost of living is 14.2 percent lower than the U.S. average. Of course, Akron’s average salary of $45,706 is lower, too — about 7 percent lower than the national average. (But if you do that math, we come out ahead.) If you want to feel really good, our cost of living is 30 percent lower than Los Angeles, while our average wage is only 14 percent less.
And wouldn’t you rather have a mansion on Turkeyfoot Lake than a hovel on Santa Monica pier? (OK, don’t answer that.) My point is this: Many of us are forever seeking the informational passkeys to permanent residence in the land of home theaters and lap pools. Let me help you out a bit. (And certainly, all that driving around town wastes gas, especially at these prices.)
The salary smorgasbord presented here includes a look at the latest numbers for the Akron metropolitan statistical area (MSA) — brought to you courtesy of your tax dollars and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. See how your paycheck stacks up.
Along with those numbers, I’ve profiled a handful of Akronites in both the public and private sectors, representing different education levels and skills. For example, I chose a surgeon because, as a group, they represent Akron’s highest-paying profession. I picked a polymer saleswoman since polymers and sales jobs are important to Akron’s economy. I also wanted to profile someone — in this case, photographer Ken Love — who was proving the averages wrong (in a good way).
And what he and the others interviewed here have to say about their work and their money may just give you some of that information you need to unlock the gates to Swankyland.
Anchor, Multimedia Journalist
Average area salary for radio/TV announcers: $39,420
Mansfield’s annual salary: off the record
When people tell Akron native Eric Mansfield he has such a glamorous job as a news reporter and weekend anchor for WKYC-TV, Channel 3, he laughs and suggests they follow him around for a day. Long gone are the days when television anchors were expected only to sit in make-up for an hour, saunter onto the set a few minutes before showtime, sit in the anchor chair and read — convincingly — what had been written for them.
These days, the 43-year-old veteran journalist is what’s called an “MMJ” — short for multimedia journalist, otherwise known as a one-man band. He reports his own stories, writes the copy, videotapes the interviews (with the help of a locking tripod), edits the video, narrates (called voicing over) and writes the introduction for the anchor. And then he Tweets, blogs and Facebooks about it.
In the good old days of TV journalism, about a decade ago or so, four people would typically work on a single story.
“These days, it’s just me. I even put on my own make-up,” says Mansfield. “I feel sorry for the kids just getting into the business now because they’re not working alongside anyone to show them the ropes. I learned alongside some great journalists.”
And long gone are the large salaries TV stations showered on big (and big-haired) talent.
“Every once in a while, someone will come straight out of a beauty pageant and into the anchor chair making a lot of money, but that’s rare,” he says. “Some of the major anchors still make decent money, but it’s not the kind of huge money they used to make.”
With so much competition from alternative entertainment, the 6 o’clock news is no longer must-see TV. And that means less ad revenue to bolster hefty salaries for stars.
Mansfield’s wife, Lisa, teaches. Between their two incomes, they’re able to raise their three boys with most of life’s nice things, but it’s not easy.
“Look, I’m the No. 2 guy at Channel 3, and I’m not getting rich,” he says. “I’m riding around by myself in a seven-year-old car with a camera trying to do it all.”
Those thinking about going into journalism should do it, says Mansfield, because they believe in the power of the press to change lives for the better. They also need to love the fast-paced and unpredictable.
“All that bit about comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable is true about good journalism,” says Mansfield. “If that’s your motivation, you’ll never find a better job. I get to do something different every day. I never know what’s going to happen. That’s the excitement. I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
Belly Dancing Instructor/Business Owner
Average area salary for teacher/instructor (unlisted): $32,030
Ammenah’s annual salary: $25,000ish
A little more than a decade ago, Toni Kearns was a wife, mother and project manager at Davey Tree in Kent, making a solid, mid-level executive’s salary — when she took a leave to take care of her husband’s ailing aunt.
After the aunt passed away, Kearns had “a gut feeling” it was time to pursue her love of belly dancing — an art with ancient origins. While many theories exist, most scholars agree that belly dancing started primarily in Egypt and Northern India as a dance that women in a tribe performed to encourage a woman in labor. In fact, fitness experts say that many of the moves in belly dancing are similar to those currently used to ease labor pains.
“It’s a dance style performed by women for women,” says Kearns, who now goes by the Arabic name Ammenah, meaning honest and faithful. And it was this spirit of women-helping-women that convinced Ammenah she’d found her calling.
Although there were a handful of belly dancing teachers in Ohio at the time, there was no studio dedicated to it. So Ammenah opened Visions of the Nile in West Akron. There, she charges $64 for six weeks of group classes and $50 an hour for private lessons.
Luckily, Hollywood cooperated with Ammenah’s business plan by bringing to the forefront artists such as Shakira and Britney Spears, who borrow heavily from classic belly dancing, juggernauting it into the mainstream.
Most of Ammenah’s clients, however, aren’t aspiring to pop stardom; they just want to feel better about their bodies and gain some confidence. While many of her clients do lose weight, it’s the change within that most pleases Ammenah.
“They have a glow. They carry themselves well,” she says. “They’ve become confident women by the time they leave the studio. That’s my reward.”
Average area salary for photographers: $28,500
Love’s annual salary: 200k+
When Ken Love left his job as photographer at the Akron Beacon Journal in 2008 after 20 years in photojournalism to go solo, plenty of people said he’d fail. After all, there were hundreds of photographers in Northeast Ohio who already had a lock on the most lucrative segments: senior portraits and weddings. And the money wasn’t big. The average salary for an Akron photographer is $28,500, less than half of what Love was making as a Beacon staff photographer.
But Love was unfazed. He had studied photography at art schools in Rhode Island and Pittsburgh and had a wall of awards to back up his skill, including the coveted Ohio Photographer of the Year title bestowed by the Associated Press.
Another plus, he says, is that he’s always been completely dedicated to his profession.
“I’m a photographer,” says Love. “I’m not a guy who works on cars or taxes and then takes pictures on the side.”
Still, the naysayers said he was crazy to leave the security of the Beacon, especially since he’d just gotten married and purchased a home/studio on seven acres in Copley Township.
“That’s the wrong thing to say. If you tell me I can’t do something, I’ll do everything I can to prove you wrong,” he says.
According to Love, it didn’t take him more than a year to surpass his financial goals, and he now brings home at least quadruple what he made at the paper. In fact, for his 43rd birthday recently, he celebrated by buying himself a luxury Rolex.
“I felt a little guilty about it, but I wanted to reward myself for all the hard work,” he says. “I knew I’d earned it.”
Love makes a lot of money, he says, because he works a lot. Most days began at 7 a.m. and end at midnight. And he works seven days a week.
“There are people who just want to put in their time, get a paycheck and go home. That’s fine,” says Love. “They can come work for me.”
Clerk, Akron Public Schools
Average area salary for office clerks: $26,700
Frost’s annual salary: $33,000
Annie Frost has worked for the Akron Public Schools for 27 years, although she hadn’t planned to make a career of it.
She spent two years in college at Otterbein studying public relations but had to take a break to make some money. At the time, a lot of her friends were trying to get jobs with public schools, known for providing steady work with decent pay.
Her father introduced her to an Akron Public Schools administrator, who hired her as a substitute clerk. At first, she was a floater, traveling wherever she was needed. She filed, typed, answered phones and filled out forms. She eventually ended up working several years at Garfield High School, where she developed some close friendships with staff members and students. She now works at the APS headquarters building downtown as a clerk in the human resources department — doing “basically whatever they ask me to,” she says.
“We’ve all been here forever,” she says. “No one ever leaves here, so we’re just like family.”
Though Frost hasn’t had a raise in four years due to budget cuts, you won’t catch her complaining.
“I have a job I really like that pays me pretty well. I have good friends here,” she says. “Those are the important things.”
Sanitation Worker, City of Akron
Average area salary for refuse/recycling workers: $31,340
Golden’s annual salary: $31,040
Phillip Golden joined the City of Akron sanitation services department not long after high school because he knew that without a college education, a job with the government was probably his best bet. And, says Golden, the world will always need trash haulers, making it a career with staying power.
He also appreciates that he’s paid a manageable wage, which helps to support his two children.
“These days, I feel lucky to have a job,” says Golden, “and even luckier to have one I like.”
While some might not like the idea of being a “garbage man,” Golden loves it.
And, it’s not the same dirty, backbreaking job it once was. Akron residents put their trash into designated containers, which are then picked up by a robotic arm attached to the garbage truck. Rarely, says Golden, does he have to get out of the truck and manually haul the trash.
Some days he rides with a colleague; other days, he’s alone. He particularly likes the job he has now: driving the “special” truck designed to help homeowners who can’t haul their cans to the curb. He also likes that he’s not chained to a desk and that he’s always meeting new people — and keeping an eye on the old ones.
“We get to know our customers. It’s an important part of our job. If something’s not right with them, if they’ve gotten sick or something, we’re often the first to know,” he says. “We make sure they’re taken care of.”
Average area salary for sales reps/manufacturing: $78,030
Ashman’s annual salary: six figures
When Mary Ashman began selling polymers nearly 17 years ago, it was on straight commission. No sales that day? No dinner that night.
These days, the 57-year-old still sells solely on commission. But, she adds with a smile, her pantry is full and her income is a healthy six figures, although some years, those six figures are more robust than others.
“There were times during those early days I ate a lot of noodles, but I managed,” she says with a laugh. “I just kept at it. I saw it as a challenge.”
Employed by New York-based Matrix Polymers, Ashman sells four types of polymers to both U.S. and Canadian manufacturers. (Polymers are used to make garbage bags, shrink wrap, plastic lumber, cosmetic bags, water bottles and just about anything else you can think of.) She travels only on occasion, and most of her work is done by phone and computer. Sometimes in her slippers.
It may sound ideal, but remember, Ashman has no guaranteed wage. She pays for her own health insurance; she does her own paperwork. Any crisis that comes up is hers to handle. And she eats her mistakes, financially speaking.
Ashman, who once ran a clothing company in New York City, moved back to Akron 18 years ago to be near family and was desperate for work. She came across an ad for a polymer salesperson and was hired immediately, even though she knew almost nothing about polymers. But her business background was considered a plus, and she was willing to work only on commission.
“Some people just aren’t cut out to live like this, but I definitely am,” she says.
Ashman believes she was the only woman in her sales territory when she first started out. And there are only a few more now. One of the primary requirements for success, then, is being comfortable working with men.
“First they want to see how much you know. Once you get over that, they’re fine,” she says. “And I’m pretty good at just being one of the guys.”
Though the economic downturn hurt her sales dramatically, she’s nowhere near the noodle-eating stage.
“I build strong relationships with my people — the kind that last through the hard times,” she says. “When it’s time for them to order again, they come to me.”
Scott Weiner, M.D.
Orthopedic, Oncological Surgeon
Average area salary for surgeons: $246,680
Weiner’s annual salary: considerably more
According to government statistics, there are 30 surgeons in Akron. As a group, they have the highest average salary of any profession here: $246,680. Nationally, orthopedic surgeons — bone guys — make $410,903 on average. But Dr. Scott Weiner is not only a surgeon, he’s an administrator at Summa Health Systems and is paid accordingly.
He’s not the highest-paid surgeon in Akron, but he’s among the top.
Weiner (as do most highly paid doctors) combines patient care with administration. He’s chairman of Summa’s orthopedics department and division chief of oncology services within orthopedics; he sees patients at Akron Children’s Hospital, particularly those with bone and soft-tissue cancers; and he’s a Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at Northeast Ohio Medical University.
He’s blessed, he says, that his parents were able to pay for both his undergraduate work and med school. “About $100,000 was average among my friends,” says Weiner, about the debt they graduated with. “Sometimes it was worse.”
Experts bear that out. Loans accumulated through college and medical school can reach $300,527 and take more than 20 years to pay off — depriving a doctor of $788,880 in net income. In addition, doctors work, on average, 60 hours each week — the equivalent of one and a half full-time jobs.
Weiner’s day begins about 6 a.m. with patient rounds and ends after 6 p.m. with evening meetings at the hospital. He’s in surgery three days a week, sees patients in the office one day and spends another couple catching up on administrative work — that’s six 12-hour workdays each week. And he has meetings four to five evenings a month.
For doctors in private practice — unlike Weiner, who’s hospital-affiliated — close to half of their income goes toward maintaining their practice. And that excludes payments on college and med-school debt. These doctors devote about 30 percent of their gross profit toward office overhead, and required licenses and certifications cost about $5,000 annually. Then, there’s medical malpractice insurance, which can run tens of thousands each year.
With yearly expenses like these — before taxes — a doctor’s seemingly high income vanishes quickly.
“We do this because we love it,” says Weiner. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard a doctor say they’re in it for the money. That just doesn’t make sense.”