Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Kollel Life

Oy. Wolf gives a fantastic response to the following letter, which appears in the Yated, regarding the salaries of wives in Lakewood.
Dear Editor,

I must say that the salaries that women receive in the city where I live - Lakewood, New Jersey - are pitiful. It is a disgrace that they get little more than $10 an hour. I am not sure what the situation is like in other places such as Brooklyn, Monsey and the Five Towns, but in this city, where so many upstanding people are struggling financially, it is simply disgraceful that our wives can't find jobs that pay decently.

Some people now highly regret that their wives, when they were single, didn't get some sort of degree to enable them to get jobs that pay decently. I don't want to get into a whole discussion about whether a girl should or shouldn't get a degree, because that really isn't the point here. The point is that, in a city where the concept of "hashkafaToraso umnaso" can be applied to so many people, the fact that wives can't earn a half-decent salary to keep their families afloat is a serious problem that has not been discussed sufficiently. In most cases, even where the husband is the primary breadwinner, the family needs the mother to earn a decent salary to help cover ever-growing expenses.

In Lakewood, apparently, $10 an hour is supposed to cut it.

$10 an hour is what you give the guy off the street who you hire to clean your backyard.

$10 an hour is what you give Maria, your cleaning lady, for scrubbing your floors.

Because of the large number of young (and not-so-young) married wives who need jobs, storeowners and business owners can - and do - dictate how much they will pay their employees. And let me tell you, they are taking full advantage of the situtation. I know of two companies that are seriously contemplating moving to Lakewood for one reason only - cheap labor.

Not Mexican cheap labor.

The cheap labor of our neshei chayil, who can be hired for "bubkis."

It's a shandeh.

Eli Parkowitz
As Wolf responded, salaries are given based on value. A person with little formal training trying to get a job where numerous other people would be willing and able to get the same job will demand lower pay - period. It is not the responsibility of businesses to pay someone more than they are worth and cost themselves money to support the employee. If a person wants to earn more money, they should get more training, a better degree, both spouses should work, or something along those lines. If a community has established itself with certain characteristics, mainly that there are numerous young women available to work for very little due to lack of education, skills, training, and the like - and they are willing to accept jobs because they either need the money or want to work (get out of the house, etc.), that will result in smart businesses utilizing that situation to their advantage. This is not a shandeh, but reality.


  1. OY.
    The "guy off the street who cleans your backyard" and "Maria who scrubs your floors" are working hard to make a living doing work that you would never do- and you feel above that??

  2. My cleaning lady, whose name happens to be Maria, is paid more than $10/hr.

    And while I agree that salaries are generally based on principles of supply and demand, there are such things as market inefficiencies which explain why, for instance, teachers and policeman (valuable, trained positions) are very poorly paid.

  3. Agreed.

    I don't want to get into a whole discussion about whether a girl should or shouldn't get a degree, because that really isn't the point here.

    I think that's entirely the point here, actually. If you don't get a degree, chances are you're not going to get a high-paying job. Period.

  4. Thanks for the kind words and the link, Ezzie.


    As I mentioned in my response, it's not about getting a degree, per se, but about job skills. In many cases that amounts to getting a degree, but it doesn't have to.

    The Wolf

  5. E - Yeah, I thought about commenting on those, but left it out. Was a side issue in this case. But pretty disgusting...

    Annie - Agreed, but doesn't take away from the general point - perhaps strengthens it.

    Erachet, Wolf - With Wolf's caveat, agreed with Erachet. It certainly is a large factor that the writer simply took out of the equation.

  6. This attitude of "my wife works to support me in kollel so she deserves to make a lot of money" is a sick way of thinking. Sadly, many frum people have this "it's coming to me" attitude.

  7. I think the point here, though, is that the business owners claim to be part of the system which encourages wives to work to support their husbands, and they should therefore pay salaries to make that ideal work.

  8. Anon - I don't think that's true, but let's assume it is: They still can't pay people over market value. Doing so would cost them lots of money, which would have to be made up for by raising prices - which would either cost them business (the same families are not going to overpay for items when they need the money), or if there's no direct competition, they will simply be taking the money right back from the same families. The last option is for the owner to eat the costs, which is simply an outrageous request on the part of the writer and essentially a direct demand - not plea - for tzedaka at the expense of the storeowner.

  9. Ezzie - agreed that it is a request for tzedakah, but I think that is the writer's point, that the whole system is based on tzedakah, and that the employers should be giving in such a way because they want the kollel system to work. Look at it as a quasi-zevulun type thing. (btw, writing here from Cleveland).

  10. (cool! feel free to email me)

    If he's making a request for tzedaka, he should be presenting it completely differently. He should be asking nicely for storeowners to do what they can to help out the burdens of everyone else. He should not be calling it a "shanda", a disgrace, or ignoring the realities that stores face. The letter, if you are right, makes a lot of assumptions (that the storeowners buy into the lifestyle, that they support it, that they should support it, and that they should do so to their own detriment), then proceeds to criticize the people who aren't going above and beyond to do so. I think that's very wrong.

  11. What the guy explain is basics economics. If someone is easily replacable and comes a dime a dozen, than that's all you're going to get, a dime.

    People are living too much on idealism and are not getting any grounding in reality...get an education, be fiscally responsible.