Maybe it’s because I’m in my thirties and I just lack the energy, but I find it hard to envy people these days. I never really wanted to be rich—just comfortable—and the thought of being famous sounds horrific (I like walking in cities without people bothering me).
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When I was in grad school and making abysmal wages, I did envy my peers who were fully employed in real jobs; one of my college buddies got his first job at Morgan Stanley making a good enough wage to buy a car, rent a snazzy apartment downtown, and go out to restaurants whenever he wanted. The last of those three made me the most jealous—I subsisted on canned pasta and often had to dig into the recesses of cupboards to survive.
So I fully understand the envy, and I went through it too—but times have changed and I don’t think I would envy my friend as much if we were just graduating today instead of in the 90s. This recent video explains why.
The job interview process is a tad gruelling, but that’s fine. The real cherry on the top of the cake is the compensation, quickly mentioned at the end of the video as being around $70-$80k. This sounds about right from what friends of mine have told me: first-year analysts at Goldman Sachs can expect to make that much, with more possible as a bonus.
For now, forget the bonus. Since 2008, those massive bonuses have become an endangered species, and when they’re spotted, they’re much smaller than most expect. Plus, they’re taxed at an obscene rate if you live in New York City or New Jersey, as many Goldman analysts making those salaries will.
Still, that’s $70-$80k, which is about six times as much as I made as a grad student. Why isn’t this to be envied? I’ll give you three reasons:
Investment banking is famous for its obscenely long hours, where 100 hour weeks are not impossible. These are salaried positions, and you are expected to put in a lot of hours to earn your pay. Those who don’t do not last long. Even at an average 60 hours a week plus a two-week holiday, we’re looking at $26.67 per hour. Yes, that’s much better than minimum wage, but plenty of bartenders, massage therapists, plumbers, and office managers make that much.
The Quality of Work
Junior analysts do not have a glamorous job, and I don’t understand why financial services is perceived as a glamorous industry by the public. It’s in fact very boring, and generally the more boring the work is, the better it is for clients. But the dullness of the work isn’t the only problem—the fact that finance work is feast or famine means you’re either stuck in a beige cubicle being bored or you’re stuck in a beige cubicle doing data entry in spreadsheets for hours. (If you want to read more on a junior analyst’s job duties and lifestyle, pick up a copy of Kevin Roose’s excellent Young Money, an accurate description of Wall Street in the post-2008 era.)
The Cost of Living
If you’re reading about 22 year old kids making $80k fresh out of college while sitting in your breakfast nook in Youngstown or Peroria or Reno, you might get incensed. (Bonus points if you’re a baby boomer with fuzzy math abilities but a clear memory of buying your house 35 years ago for $20,000.) So let me explain the lifestyle this gets you in NYC.
In New York, real estate brokers have a “rule of 40″, which means you can afford to rent an apartment with a monthly rent equal to 1/40th of your annual income. So someone earning $80k can afford to pay $2,000 per month (in my experience, bonuses don’t count in the eyes of landlords). I know suburbanites are probably picturing a sprawling luxury apartment overlooking Central Park, but $2,000/mo. in the city gets you this:
This is the kitchen of a one bedroom on 153rd street, in a hilly northern part of Harlem. There’s a shared courtyard and a shared washer and dryer in the building. It has a dishwasher, which is an extremely rare luxury in New York City.
The living room, as you see, looks over to the neighboring building’s wall. You’re a bit high up (there’s no elevator—enjoy the free exercise!), so you’ll get some more sunlight and your chances of a robbery are at a minimum thanks to the bars on the window and the fact that thieves often stick to the first floor in this city. You may need to paint the walls—they’re a bit nasty. But it’s a great way to get your mind off working on spreadsheets about Alaska-based companies that sell canned salmon to Russia.
Your commute by subway will be about 49 minutes—not too bad, but that means your 12 hour workdays will become 14 hour days with commuting included. Of course, you could get a car and cut that commute down to 29 minutes without traffic, but you’ll also need to pay $400 per month for parking near Goldman’s headquarters and find parking spaces on the street near home (which won’t be easy, since you’ll get back after everyone else).
Want to live closer to work? Fine, you lazy bastard, here’s a studio in Greenwich Village. My god, you must be saying, the Village! Isn’t that where Gwyneth Paltrow and other famous and obscenely boring people live? Why yes, it is. Maybe you’ll run into Ryan Gosling on your way to your local café before going to work. Now we’re talking—the real NYC experience!
And you’re going to have quite the lifestyle. I bet Mr. Gosling can’t use his window a/c unit as a makeshift nightstand like you can. Does Ms. Paltrow touch both walls at the same time when stretching in bed? No—but you can!
I will bet you cold hard-earned cash that Gwyneth Paltrow doesn’t have a pedestal sink in her blue bathroom in the shape of a seashell. If you’re a single guy, don’t complain that this sink is too feminine. Chicks dig guys with seashell shaped pedestal sinks, so after you’ve impressed the ladies with stories about how you work at “Goldman,” you take them home and they see this bad boy. You’re in. Maybe Pharrell has to work all night to get lucky, but you just have to work all day to get your DCF model of Qualys just right before spending an hour and $45 at the bar.
Masters of the Universe indeed.
Okay, so maybe first-year analysts aren’t living the way DiCaprio did in The Wolf of Wall Street—so what, right? They’ve got huge job opportunities if they’re successful enough, right? They’re going to end up millionaires with private yachts, aren’t they?
The financial industry is shrinking. This has been the case for six years now. It is not going to end. To be honest, it shouldn’t end—the industry has a lot of bloat, a lot of talentless people, a lot of unnecessary overlap, and a lot of overpaid people.
Of course, having Goldman Sachs on your resume is better than having Starbucks or McDonalds on your resume. So these junior analysts aren’t going to end up impoverished. They’ve definitely succeeded at the American capitalist game so far—thanks to long hours studying for tests, followed by long hours working for bosses, which will probably be followed by many years of job hopping and hustling. They certainly deserve respect, and maybe even a bit of pity.