It's an unfortunate fact of life in America that sometimes the jobs that involve the most risk and responsibility also happen to be the ones that pay the least. I've always been curious as to why that might be the case. Do they pay so low because (on the surface at least) they seem like jobs that anyone can do? We discuss that possibility on this week's Unpopular Opinion podcast ...
... where I'm joined by my Cracked co-workers David Wong and Breandan Carter and stand-up comic, Chelsea Lately regular, and GTA V video game voice Annie Lederman. We also talk about Steve Jobs. Give it a listen!
For the purposes of this article, let's stick with those previously mentioned occupations. These are jobs that, on a consistent basis, place the employees who choose to fill them in grave danger.
Even worse, sometimes it's not so much the danger of the job that makes the low pay so concerning as it is the insanely high levels of responsibility that the job entails. Whatever the case may be, there are some members of the American workforce who are getting paid a terribly low wage, and it's something we should probably be worried about. For example ...
#4. Commuter Airline Pilot
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Quick! Name one rock star characteristic nobody wants to possess. If you said "frequent death by plane crash," holy shit, that was a good answer, because that's exactly what I was going for, even though anything from "debilitating heroin addiction" to "Oasis teeth" would have sufficed.
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Warning: Cigarette smoke will make you look like a mid-'90s Britpop singer.
Sure, the statistics say that car crashes are way more frequent and deadly, but that doesn't change the fact that plane crashes do happen, and the results of them (usually measured in fatalities) can vary wildly based on the skill and experience of the person piloting the plane. Not every captain is going to have that FAA-recommended mixture of ice water, vodka, Miller Lite, and cocaine coursing through their veins like Denzel Washington did in the "Rocky for alcoholics" drama Flight.
Without the nerve-calming magic of substance abuse, pilots are left to rely on rudimentary tactics like "things they learned in flight school" to stave off disaster, and that's a whole lot of responsibility to put in the hands of someone who's getting paid fast food money.
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One flight to Newark, please!
Yes, commercial airline pilots still get paid something approaching a living wage, but the problem is commuter or regional airline pilots. Basically, when you book a flight from the glorious mecca of modernity that you eventually fled to in adulthood back to the depressing hellhole that most of your friends and family never mustered up the will to leave, even if you book the flight on United or whatever, at some point you're going to end up on a plane that says something like "JetBlue" on the side.
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It's the narcotic smell of Dunkin' Donuts just beyond the wall that keeps us from asking questions.
Even if you don't notice it, just know that it's happening a lot, to the tune of half of all the commercial airline flights in the United States. Now here's the troubling part: According to a recent study, a first year co-pilot at one of these smaller airlines can make as little as $19 per hour. If that seems like a lot of money, first of all, congrats on having Internet access despite obviously living miles below the poverty line. It borders on irresponsible, really, but the website I work for thanks you for the support nonetheless.
Anyway, even if that is decent starting money, pay for the most experienced pilots at the most major-est of airlines tops out at around $200,000, and you have to fly a lot of miles before you start making that kind of cash. That's not exactly indentured servitude, but it's also not enough to make "airline pilot" the sexy career choice it was back when your grandparents were smoking cigarettes at doctor's appointments and shit.
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"Those were the days."
In fact, there's currently a pilot shortage plaguing the airline industry. In other words, there are more available pilot jobs than there are people willing to fill them. Sure, that means the people who do sign up to fly for a living are likely doing it purely for the love of the game, which will be a definite plus if things start to go south, but the fact that they're likely to be consumed with thoughts about how to come up with enough extra cash to pay their rent and buy food definitely won't be.
Once the smoke clears and the investigations conclude, most plane crashes end up being attributed to pilot error. Would paying pilots a living wage lead to fewer crashes? I have no idea. What I do know is that American Eagle flights crash all the damn time, while UPS has only had five crashes in their entire existence. Can you guess which one pays a pilot with 15 years' experience an average of $261/hour and which one tops out at around $100/hour?
#3. School Bus Driver
Oh, hey, speaking of people who take important lives into their hands on a daily basis, how about what we're paying school bus drivers these days? That's a trick question, actually. Relatively speaking, school bus drivers are paid as well as any other job that involves caring for your shitty kids.
The problem is, paying school bus drivers at all seems to be a completely optional step in the American education process. Have a gander at this terrifying job listing for volunteer bus drivers, for example. First of all, that anyone is applying at all when the only promised payoff is a morning spent driving asshole kids around should set off every pedophile warning that exists inside a straight-thinking person. For the record, if you've never heard one before, that warning will sound something like this:
There's an even more troubling highlight of this job posting, though. Look at this shit:
If anyone out there was letting those pesky rules about knowing how to operate a bus full of children keep them from pursuing a side gig in operating a bus full of children, apparently New York is the state for you. As long as you're all right with not being paid, they're all right with you shuttling kids to and from extracurricular activities without proving it's something that won't end in you killing everyone involved.
Of course, this is pretty much right in line with how the public school system works in general. The more precarious the teaching position (inner city schools vs. private schools), the less it pays. Traffic accidents are one of the leading causes of death in this country; it only stands to reason that the people who act as the last line of defense between the youth of the nation and this unfortunate fate are paid absolutely nothing.