Is the Religious Freedom Restoration Act Unconstitutional?

stevens

Sasha Volokh brings up the question with a quote from Justice Stevens’ concurrence in City of Boerne v. Flores.1

In my opinion, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) is a “law respecting an establishment of religion” that violates the First Amendment to the Constitution.

If the historic landmark on the hill in Boerne happened to be a museum or an art gallery owned by an atheist, it would not be eligible for an exemption from the city ordinances that forbid an enlargement of the structure. Because the landmark is owned by the Catholic Church, it is claimed that RFRA gives its owner a federal statutory entitlement to an exemption from a generally applicable, neutral civil law. Whether the Church would actually prevail under the statute or not, the statute has provided the Church with a legal weapon that no atheist or agnostic can obtain. This governmental preference for religion, as opposed to irreligion, is forbidden by the First Amendment. Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U.S. 38, 52—55 (1985).

I haven’t thought about the matter before, but this argument seems legitimate.

Sasha points out that if so, “the solution isn’t necessarily to invalidate RFRA. It could be to extend RFRA to apply to deeply held secular convictions, as Justice Harlan suggested in his concurrence in the result in Welsh v. United States (1970).”

Here’s a position paper on the RFRA from the Secular Coalition For America.

  1. I say “from,” but technically, the quote isn’t “from” Stevens’ concurrence – it is his entire concurrence. []
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34 Responses to Is the Religious Freedom Restoration Act Unconstitutional?

  1. 1
    Manju says:

    The problem here is that the RFRA reestablishes the Sherbert Test…at least as much as Congress can (they can’t apply the law to the States, for example, wheras Sherbert did).

    So to find the RFRA unconstitutional is to find Sherbert unconstitutional too. And, in some sense, even Scalia and Thomas think it is…that’s why they lead the battle to gut it in the first place.

    But (I guess because of the role precedent plays) they never actually overturned it (or any of the case law from which Sherbert emanates, to be more precise).

  2. 2
    Elusis says:

    I am thinking that I have a deeply held religious belief that all outstanding debts should be forgiven after seven years, as per Deuteronomy. This bodes well for my enormous, 30-year student loans.

  3. 3
    Shylock says:

    Elusis, I’m wondering, then, why you took them out in the first place, especially in a major (I think you were in family therapy or something like that) where you just aren’t going to make any money.

    I actually specifically chose a law school that had a (relatively) reasonable tuition, I saved for my first year and then actually worked freelance in my chosen profession in years 2 and 3. I paid off the small amount owing in a few years.

    And what bugs the crap out of me is that way of thinking is just going to get dumped on. You can already only pay 15% (there is now a push for 10%) of your DECLARED income and then have the massive rest of the student loan simply erased after a certain period of time. That may even get better for borrowers, because the amount of people with a crappy major and $150,000 in student loans is massive and overwhelming. I, as a taxpayer now, am going to be paying off your loan in reality. You probably are never going to pay it in full.

  4. 4
    RonF says:

    Here is a breakdown on that from a couple of years ago:

    •As of Quarter 1 in 2012, the average student loan balance for all age groups is $24,301. About one-quarter of borrowers owe more than $28,000; 10% of borrowers owe more than $54,000; 3% owe more than $100,000; and less than 1%, or 167,000 people, owe more than $200,000.

    More recent figures bump the average number to about $28K – $29K, but the percentages are about the same ($100K = 2.5%, $150K < 1%). Figure that a lot of people borrow $24K or $29K to buy a car – but in that case, the people borrowing the money have to prove they can pay it back before they get the loan. Not so with student loans.

  5. 5
    Harlequin says:

    More recent figures bump the average number to about $28K – $29K, but the percentages are about the same ($100K = 2.5%, $150K < 1%). Figure that a lot of people borrow $24K or $29K to buy a car…

    Okay, but how does “average amount of original debt” compare to “average amount of debt still outstanding among all borrowers”? (I mean, there are a bunch of comparing apples and oranges problems with this comparison, but that one in particular struck me funny.)

  6. 6
    KellyK says:

    You know, of all the things my taxes go toward, paying for there to be more good family therapists around isn’t one of the ones I would complain about.

    It’s awesome if people manage to save for a large part of college, or work enough while going to school that they don’t end up owing that much. That doesn’t mean it’s practical for anyone and everyone.

    Besides which, there are always going to be necessary fields that require a certain amount of education but don’t pay that well. It’s all very well to say “Don’t go into fields where you won’t make much money,” but we do actually need nurses, teachers, social workers, and the like (moreso than we need more corporate attorneys), even if their paychecks tend not to reflect that.

  7. 7
    Elusis says:

    Not that I owe anyone here an explanation of my financial decisions 17 years ago, but

    - at the time I was married, and was figuring on having two incomes to help pay the debt off when we both had more stable careers. And it made more sense for us to, as much as possible, manage the cost of my school via loans with interest rates below 5% rather than by using credit cards with interest rates 2-4 times that. Except for the part where the debt was only in my name and not dischargeable in bankruptcy, so post-marriage: bummer for me!

    - at the time salaries for doctorate-level people in my field had historically been higher than they are now, and there were more clinical jobs for doctoral-level people in my field as well. Now many clinical and supervisory jobs once held by people with PhDs are being held by people with MAs, while jobs previously held by people with MAs are being done for free by people who are students pre-graduation or post-grad, pre-licensure, as “unpaid internships.”

    - at the time, there were many more full-time academic jobs in all fields across the university system, rather than programs and schools relying on upwards of 70% “contingent” or adjunct faculty to do the work of teaching their students while saving most of their money to pay increasingly bloated and expensive administrations.

    - at the time, I could get a self-insured health care policy for about $110 a month in a very good HMO with a low co-pay, instead of having to pay about 7-8 times that to maintain coverage when I was between full-time jobs as I did last year.

    - at the time, the reimbursement rates from insurance companies for therapy were at least vaguely connected to the benchmark private pay rates in the places where I was looking to live and work, unlike today when they are sometimes as little as 30% of what’s typical for a clinical hour.

    But seriously, I’m not interested in anyone armchair quarterbacking my financial life, and am going to pre-emptively ask Amp to moderate any further efforts to go there because 1) it’s off-topic, 2) I was making a wry joke, and 3) I’m really, seriously not having further conversation with anyone about my life choices.

  8. 8
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    I know lots of people in their late 40s/50s who are in the psych field in one way or another. The market really has changed.

    As always, if you want your kids to get rich, tell them to be an electrician. Or a plumber. Those are going to be heavily licensed for basically forever, and are in high demand, and there’s no realistic replacement, so you’ll have good work. Those people often seem to make a solid $125k at least.

    But don’t get an advanced degree if the goal is to make money. At least not if you are “normal.” CPAs do reasonably well; MBAs not reliably so. Lawyers, social service people, PhDs, bond traders, scientists… we’re all screwed, at least in a general sense. I can’t even tell you how many people I know who went to school when it made perfect sense to do so, and now they’re SOL because society has changed so much. You can’t use 20/20 hindsight.

  9. 9
    Elusis says:

    But gin-and-whiskey, it’s so *satisfying* to look at other people’s problems and say smugly “Well, you know what you SHOULD have done…”

    Gives a person that warm, all-over glow of superiority.

  10. 10
    La Lubu says:

    As always, if you want your kids to get rich, tell them to be an electrician. Or a plumber. Those are going to be heavily licensed for basically forever, and are in high demand, and there’s no realistic replacement, so you’ll have good work. Those people often seem to make a solid $125k at least.

    Pardon me, but are you high? Seriously dude, what the hell are you smoking that would cause you to make a statement like this that so completely misrepresents reality? I am an electrician. In case you haven’t looked at the economy lately, lemme tellya—we aren’t in “high demand”. My Local, which had full employment throughout the Clinton years, has spent the past decade-and-a-half with about 30% unemployment year round. At times, the number of people on the out-of-work book has been 45%.

    Also, last time I looked the highest scale was in SF, and at 40/wk, even those folks don’t make $125,000. If you’re working in one of the higher-paid areas, and you’re working 7-12s for a full year (seven days a week, twelve hour days), you might get the chance to make that much. But that’s highly unlikely. Most jobs that are “pushed” for the long-term like that aren’t inclined to use that kind of overtime; they use shifts instead. Shift differential gives you a boost, but not by much—it’s less than the boost you get for being a foreman. Contractors hate long-term overtime, even when it’s TM (time & material); the potential for expensive accidents and injuries are too great, and one good accident or injury will eat up all the profit and then some for a particular job (you realize that most contractors are operating on a 2-3% profit margin?).

    For my area (downstate Illinois): A nonunion electrician with a little bit of experience will make around $10,000-$15,000 a year, with no benefits and no pension. A nonunion electrician with a decade of experience or more might make $20,000-$30,000 (also no benefits and no pension). In downstate Illinois, those are “working poor” wages—enough to make bare-bones ends, but not enough to save for the future or cover emergency expenses (like a car breakdown). Union electricians with a journeyman card will make approx. $75,000 if we work all year round, which for the most part we haven’t for over a decade. Those that have, are “travelers”, which means they’re earning about the same amount of money they would otherwise be receiving in unemployment benefits after they get done paying travel expenses (it’s expensive to keep up two households).

    Keep in mind: the wages are what they are not just because of the successful labor battles of the past, but because employers realized that if the wages weren’t high enough to keep up with the dry periods (so workers could live off of our savings), they wouldn’t be able to keep skilled, quality workers in the trade. That “high pay” we’re getting is a trade-off for (a)downturns in the economy, which have pretty much been a permanent condition of the recent decade-and-a-half (remember—all those shuttered factories you fly over? Yeah, they used to employ a lot of electricians, both as in-house personnel and contracted personnel for expansion and/or retooling. Not anymore! Now employment in the trades is a game of musical chairs), and (b)the missing years of our lives as we’re exposed to a lot of toxic conditions (whole ‘nother topic, yes, but one worth mentioning).

    So no—we’re not getting rich out here. Not by a long shot. Before I hit “send”, I checked the jobs board for my union. There were 27 postings. That’s for the whole nation. Twenty-seven Locals where there’s an actual likelihood of travelers (translation: people from other Locals) being able to find work. Most of those Locals are in places where a person’s likelihood of finding housing within an hour’s drive of the jobsite is really slim. And most of those places have pay scales of $22-$27 an hour and are not OT jobs.

    Hey, you think we’re rolling in dough? Where do you live? I’ll send you a link on how to join the apprenticeship in your area. But until then, you’ll find me over in the corner laughing cynically and shaking my head at the incredible bubble that the chatting class has managed to construct around itself.

  11. 11
    Ben Lehman says:

    Thank you for posting about electrician work! I did not know any of that.

  12. 12
    RonF says:

    I have to say that based on my (limited) understanding of academia, I don’t think it was reasonable 20 years ago to figure that administrative staffs would become so bloated and academic staffs would be so stripped.

  13. 13
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    La Lubu says:
    July 11, 2014 at 6:00 am

    As always, if you want your kids to get rich, tell them to be an electrician. Or a plumber. Those are going to be heavily licensed for basically forever, and are in high demand, and there’s no realistic replacement, so you’ll have good work. Those people often seem to make a solid $125k at least.

    Pardon me, but are you high? Seriously dude, what the hell are you smoking that would cause you to make a statement like this that so completely misrepresents reality? I am an electrician. In case you haven’t looked at the economy lately, lemme tellya—we aren’t in “high demand”. My Local, which had full employment throughout the Clinton years, has spent the past decade-and-a-half with about 30% unemployment year round. At times, the number of people on the out-of-work book has been 45%.

    \
    Huh. Well, it’s clear that I’m wrong overall. All of the electricians I know in my area are doing fairly well, if not “very well.” The vast majority of them bill out at well over $50/hour, most of them close to $90-100/hour, and they generally make at least $60k/year as a journeyman and significantly more as a master. Of course there’s no guarantee of riches, since most of them are small businesses or self employed, but they do damn well.

    I can see that things may be different in your parts. I don’t know why. Are you only talking about large union jobs? If so, that might explain things; I don’t live in a city and therefore most of the folks I know are not working on union sites. None of the electricians I know have a “set rate,” they all agree on whatever rate they need to get the work they want at the profit they want. Which obviously has its own costs at times.

    Also, last time I looked the highest scale was in SF, and at 40/wk, even those folks don’t make $125,000.

    Just sayin: wasn’t talking about 40/wk. Nobody works $40/wk. Not me; not any lawyer I know; almost none of the professionals that I know; literally none of the people who make $125k.

    For my area (downstate Illinois): A nonunion electrician with a little bit of experience will make around $10,000-$15,000 a year, with no benefits and no pension. A nonunion electrician with a decade of experience or more might make $20,000-$30,000 (also no benefits and no pension).

    Holy shit. Seriously? I had no idea. Consider me corrected.

    In my area, an apprentice or assistant makes more than that. Hell, in Massachusetts, minimum wage is $16k/yr if you are working 40/week, and most people pay more. In my area, an “electrician with a decade of experience or more” who has good secondary skills (always shows up on time; always shows up sober; does what she says she’ll do; reasonably polite; produces good work) makes a ton more $20-30k.

    More to the point, they can end up with that “decade of experience” at a pretty young age, without any educational debt. If you see someone who is a 28 year old homeowner with a new car, then unless they’re a trustafarian they work in the trades.

    Obviously it’s no guarantee. I certainly concede that there are poor electricians, just as in every field. But the motivated and competent folks do pretty damn well, at least around here. (And yes, I know quite a few of them. About half of my clients are in the trades.)

    Hey, you think we’re rolling in dough? Where do you live?

    Massachusetts.

    I’ll send you a link on how to join the apprenticeship in your area. But until then, you’ll find me over in the corner laughing cynically and shaking my head at the incredible bubble that the chatting class has managed to construct around itself.

    My error was in stupidly thinking that my area was representative. But that isn’t a “chatting bubble.”

    Your error seems to be thinking that when I talk about “work” I am talking about “salaried or fixed hourly guaranteed 40 hr/week work at a single place for many years,” which may be the mistake. Most of the folks I know serve as subs working on new construction (non-union) and as subs working on renovations (also non-union). Those who need more money also offer direct-to-consumer services for repairs, maintenance, etc (obviously non-union.) Lots of them work 60-65 hour weeks in the crunch period. We may just be talking about different things.

  14. 14
    Ben Lehman says:

    Hey look. Data!

  15. 15
    Ben Lehman says:

    More Data! And more!

    (I think this is probably quite flawed, because it doesn’t track all people who go through certification, just the ones that get jobs afterwards. i.e. if you have your electrician training but you end up working at a bookstore, you’re not included. But it is good to reference.)

    yrs–
    –Ben

  16. 16
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    Before I hit “send”, I checked the jobs board for my union. There were 27 postings. That’s for the whole nation. Twenty-seven Locals where there’s an actual likelihood of travelers (translation: people from other Locals) being able to find work. Most of those Locals are in places where a person’s likelihood of finding housing within an hour’s drive of the jobsite is really slim. And most of those places have pay scales of $22-$27 an hour and are not OT jobs.

    So when you’re basically saying “there are 27 jobs nationwide” and I’m thinking “I don’t know any electricians who are not working their asses off right now” those don’t match. I just checked Boston Craigslist, which is obviously a pretty limited source. There are a lot more than 27 listings there. And that obviously is by no means a “nationwide” search.

    Perhaps the issue really is that you’re talking about a different kind of work than I am. Or a different type of availability. e.g.,

    Most of those Locals are in places where a person’s likelihood of finding housing within an hour’s drive of the jobsite is really slim.

    or

    And most of those places have pay scales of $22-$27 an hour and are not OT jobs.

    The basic pay for someone with a journeyman that is just showing up to work is about $25/hour. Which is obviously $50k/year if you only work 40/week. In Massachusetts, that requires 8000 hours of apprentice work and 600 hours of classroom instruction (voc/tech programs can count towards both, to a degree) and a GED or high school diploma. And
    a Master Electrician license can technically be had after a year of journeyman work.

    I’m sure there’s more to it that I don’t understand, but based on the young electricians I know and some of the older ones who have explained it, it’s theoretically possible to be a journeyman by age 21-22 if yo go to vocational school. More realistically it takes people 5-6 years after high school, at which point they’re 23-24 and are making $50k/year with little debt and the potential to make a ton more. By the time they’re in their early 30s they have a master license and over a decade of experience and they are either making more as a supervisor, or have started their own business and are making a LOT more.

    Do you need good secondary skills to make a lot of money? Yes. But the people who have PhDs or JDs or anything else need secondary skills, too. Hell, try having a JD and finding a job which only asks 40 hours/week and which pays $50k/year, when you’re 24. Good luck. Not to mention that said J.D. also has about $350k in debt differential, both from the actual debt (call it $175k @ 25 k/year) and the fact that she spent seven years in school instead of working (which is another $175k if you average $25k/year.)

  17. 17
    nobody.really says:

    As always, if you want your kids to get rich, tell them to be an electrician. Or a plumber. Those are going to be heavily licensed for basically forever, and are in high demand, and there’s no realistic replacement, so you’ll have good work. Those people often seem to make a solid $125k at least.

    Pardon me, but are you high?

    Ok, fine, maybe not electricians then. But Joe the Plumber said that at the age of 35 he was about to buy a firm with revenues of $250,000 to 280,000 a year (at least, before Obama ruined everything). And it turns out that Joe wasn’t even a licensed plumber – just an assistant! So obviously a fully-licensed plumber must be rolling in dough.

  18. 18
    La Lubu says:

    First: an explanation about the 27 listings. That’s not “27 positions”, that’s 27 local union jurisdictions that have enough employment available that they need to fill calls (or will have a need in the very near future to fill calls) with people from outside the Local. Here’s how the book system works: Book 1 is Local hands—those are people who get first dibs. Then comes Book 2—journeymen from other Locals. Then comes Book 3—those are “out of classification” people (for example, journeymen wiremen working as groundmen for a Line construction job, or as VDV). Then comes Book 4, which is any old schmo off the street. Locals won’t post on the national job board unless they think there’s a chance they won’t have enough Book 2 people to fill calls. My local is doing alright until August, because there are enough school remodel projects to clear the book. But come August, those people will be laid off and either have to hit the road, or wait for employment. I know a lot of really good, experienced hands who’ve been unemployed for almost the entire year. How do they survive? Well, if they don’t have a working spouse, not very well. FWIW, Book 2 in my Local always hovers between 150-200 signees. The chances we’d ever clear Book 2 (which is mostly composed of people from “sister locals”—Locals that border ours) is zip, zero and zilch. Commercial jobs just don’t employ as many people as industrial jobs.

    Anyway, point being, the fact of the matter is that there aren’t enough jobs out there for the people that are qualified for them. That is exponentially true for the building trades. Add in that relocation to North Dakota isn’t really feasible for most people (lack of housing, schools not set up to accommodate the boomtown influx of children, spouses unwilling to quit current jobs and/or unable to find jobs in boomtown, lack of interconnected social webs that single parents rely on for child care/etc., anywhere from a 30% to 60% lower payscale) and yes—we are still very much in need of a stimulus plan out here in the rust belt.

    Now, setting aside that “billable hours” and “take-home pay” aren’t the same thing (and especially for the building trades; our ERISA health plans are more expensive because they take into account that our labor is physical, so we partially subsidize our retirees and have a built-in disability benefit for people who suffer illness or injury that is not work-related but still makes them unemployable)….

    …..you do realize that you’re comparing business owners to hourly wage earners, no? “But I have no idea why a third of your Local at any given time is out of work; my contractor buddies are making money hand over fist!” That’s an apples to oranges comparison, and that’s as charitably as I can put it. (Those same contractors always cry poor-mouth at the bargaining table, tho’. Right after they get back from their vacation in Hilton Head).

    Union scale in Massachusetts for a journeyman wireman varies from around $45 to $50 (I don’t have my tramp guide with me right now). That’s hourly wage, not including benefits. That’s a decent wage, but hardly “rich” especially when that take home pay is proportionately lowered by time spent unemployed. TBH, I’ve never spent any time looking into the work conditions in your area; it’s too far for feasible travel for me, and the high cost of housing on the east coast in comparison to wages makes it unattractive for relocation. But the only place on the east coast I recall seeing hit the job board in the past decade is upstate NY. Maybe your area is holding its own….but FWIW, union market share is much better in Illinois than just about anywhere else in the nation. Union jobs pay better. They’re safer. They come with pension benefits. You get treated like a human being, and have grievance procedures to prevent arbitrary BS.

    More importantly from my perspective, they hire women. Nonunion jobsites don’t.

    Upper middle class men like to brag about the hours they work. They think those of us who work only 40 hours a week are a bunch of deadbeats, slackers. Setting aside that these same men wonder where the hell their lives went when they get older, why their wives are divorcing them and/or why they have distant relationships with them (and with their children)….

    Trades work is PHYSICAL LABOR. Really. Most of what a JW does is on a ladder. Most of the weight we carry is like moderate weight training, but the amount of walking, bending and climbing (especially climbing) is a really good workout. Now, we in the labor movement fought really hard back in the day for that “eight hours for what you will”, but it’s also important to keep in mind what hard physical labor does to the human body over time. Yes, we are stronger and more physically fit than most desk jockeys. But we’re also a lot more likely to suffer overuse injuries that literally cripple us in old age. No, I don’t want to work 60 hours a week, and not just because I love my daughter and also enjoy having a life. All the paper-pushers that brag about their “tough weeks” don’t have my tough week. What’re you gonna risk—sprained typing finger? Paper cut? Spare me the bragging.

  19. 19
    Ampersand says:

    I don’t really have anything to add here, except to say: It’s such a pleasure to read your comments, La Lubu. :-)

  20. 20
    Ben Lehman says:

    So, from looking at the data posted, it looks like the pay differential between downstate IL (I used Peoria as my representative city) and Boston, MA is only about 7k a year. Looking at the Electrician III (senior electrician) data, it looks like G&W’s friends who make over 100k are in the 99th percentile of income for senior electricians (they only give the 90th percentile so I’m eyeballing that heavily.)

    This isn’t surprising: “people I know” is always an extremely skewed sample. If you’re a rich dude, chances are most people you know are also rich dudes.

    Contrary to that, a psychologist need only be in the 55th percentile to break 100k. (a counselor, on the other hand, has basically no chance at all. I’m not 100% sure what the difference between these two job titles is.)

    yrs–
    –Ben

  21. 21
    Elusis says:

    Contrary to that, a psychologist need only be in the 55th percentile to break 100k. (a counselor, on the other hand, has basically no chance at all. I’m not 100% sure what the difference between these two job titles is.)

    Ben: Psychologists have PhDs or PsyDs in fields like Clinical Psychology, Counseling Psychology, etc. and are licensed as Psychologists. Their work may involve doing talk therapy with clients but often involves psychological testing and report writing for some or all of it. They also supervise licensed and unlicensed clinicians and interns. They have the greatest recognition by employers and insurance companies, and their reimbursement rate by insurance is higher than counselors or MFTs, even those of us who also have doctorates.

    Counselors typically have MAs, though there are PhDs as well, and are licensed as Licensed Professional Counselors/Licensed Professional Clinical Counselors. Their work is more often individual and group therapy, or these days, supervision of clinicians and unpaid interns plus administration and paperwork.

    Marriage and Family Therapists typically have MAs, though I’m a PhD, and are licensed as LMFTs (though some license as LPC/Cs due to easier post-grad hours requirements, the perception of an easier licensing exam, and broader recognition in most states of the LPC/C license by employers and insurance companies). Our work is individual, couple, and family therapy, or supervision of clinicians and unpaid interns plus administration and paperwork. Interestingly, psychologists and counselors are also allowed to do couple and family therapy, though many have no specific training in these modes during their degree programs and no specific requirement for conjoint therapy during their post-grad internships. Also, I am not allowed to supervise psychology interns doing couple and family therapy, although psychologists with no couple and family training are allowed to supervise MFT interns.

    As of a couple of years ago, 90% of the students in MA-level mental health programs (MFT, LPCC, and clinical social work) in California were female. 60% of the students in doctoral psychology programs were female. Psychiatry is the only mental health discipline that has not tipped in this direction. The “pinker” the fields become, the more the wages slip.

  22. 22
    Ben Lehman says:

    Elusis: Thanks!

    That sucks.

  23. 23
    nobody.really says:

    I don’t really have anything to add here, except to say: It’s such a pleasure to read your comments, La Lubu. :-)

    Let’s stage a Family Scholars reunion blog!

  24. 24
    Ruchama says:

    The stuff that “everybody knows” make a lot of money frequently don’t. (Example: me. When I told people I was going to grad school in math, the usual response (aside from “I hate math”) was “Oh, you’ll be making so much money.” Ha. Still haven’t broken $50,000 a year, though I might just barely make it to $50,000 if I picked up some extra classes during the summer. At my university, though, grad students have first dibs on teaching summer courses, and this year, there weren’t any left for lecturers to teach.)

  25. 25
    Grace Annam says:

    LaLubu:

    Trades work is PHYSICAL LABOR. Really. … Now, we in the labor movement fought really hard back in the day for that “eight hours for what you will”, but it’s also important to keep in mind what hard physical labor does to the human body over time. … No, I don’t want to work 60 hours a week, and not just because I love my daughter and also enjoy having a life. All the paper-pushers that brag about their “tough weeks” don’t have my tough week. What’re you gonna risk—sprained typing finger? Paper cut? Spare me the bragging.

    Thank you for this. Awhile back, a friend of mine was plainly unimpressed when I mentioned averaging 55 to 60 hours per week in the last few years. She was puzzled about why I seemed to find that taxing. She does that ALL THE TIME, and you don’t hear her complaining! Yes, dear. You work in an air-conditioned office and sometimes have to walk to a conference room and use markers on whiteboard. And there are the occasional forays to the vending machine. I have friends who are programmers, and their industry in infamous for 80-, 90-, ONE HUNDRED!-hour work-weeks. They speak in hushed tones about the guys who are so hardcore they piss into their empty Mountain Dew bottles under their desks so they don’t have to take time to visit the urinal.

    And I’ve done a certain amount of coding, and I understand the brain-state you get into where you’re holding the structure of the code in your mind and juggling variables and maintaining focus for as long as you can while you get it down and test it. I’m not saying it’s not a difficult task.

    My colleagues and I, on the other hand, are directing traffic in all weather, talking to drivers any damn fool place they choose to stop when we turn on the blue lights, and trying to do office work in the front seat of a car made small by the prisoner cage, with the dome light as our main source of illumination, all while wearing a ballistic vest and trying not to get killed. And my job can be hard, physically, but a lot of it is episodic, and I usually get occasional breathers. Minute-to-minute, I think that electricians and plumbers have it harder than I do, physically. As I direct traffic around downed power lines, forty feet above me the lineworkers stand in the bucket or lean backwards from the pole, splicing wires in the darkness at two in the morning in a snow storm. I always thank them for what they do. As I guard construction zones, I look at the shovel-jockies in the hole and I think to myself, “I would not want to be doing that at fifty years old.”

    As Ampersand said, thanks for commenting, LaLubu.

    Grace

  26. 26
    La Lubu says:

    Thanks Amp! And many blessings to you Grace, for guarding construction zones. There’s a lot of idiots out on the road that seem to think those big orange signs, barricades, safety cones and directional arrows are just guidelines for the other drivers, not for them! (also: the first woman journeyman in my Local was killed on the job by a drunk driver; she was on a traffic crew.)

    As for not doing the work when you’re fifty—well, age discrimination is rampant in the trades. A lot of journeymen dye their hair (or shave it off, as the case may be) to hide some years. Observation over the years shows me that it really does make a difference when it comes to the layoff list—it won’t help forever, but it does provide a boost. When I was an apprentice, I worked with a guy who managed to hide a decade and a half by dying his hair and working on-and-off-again on the road (giving time for the next batch of apprentices coming through the ranks to not know him). He was in his seventies and still working! (full retirement used to be at age 62, and pension benefits did not become reciprocal between Locals until I started—so if times were tough and a person had long stints on the road, they’d have to work longer in order to have enough qualifying years to retire. Benefits earned in someone else’s Local didn’t “go home”—they stayed with the other Local’s pension plan, and in most cases travelers didn’t work enough years in other Locals to get vested in those plans. They just had to take the loss. Hence, back in the day I occasionally got to work with brothers in their seventies or pushing 70. That doesn’t happen now. Plus, full retirement was lowered to age 60. Yay!)

    (anyway…psst! I’ve spent enough time on the road faces have changed in the offices of contractors, and I look a lot younger than my age. Let’s keep ‘em assuming I’m as young as they think I am!)

    Now where was I? Oh yeah—see, another thing about those long, long work weeks. Let’s be brutally frank here—do that many people really love their job? Or are they putting in those hours because if they don’t, they’ll lose their job? I’m guessing the latter. Downsizing has the axe hanging over the heads of the people who remain, and since those people still have to eat and keep a roof over their heads, they suck it up and stay at work.

    Some people are fairly single-minded. They have one strong interest and talent that stands far out from all the rest, and are fortunate enough to have the constellation of opportunities, education, employment, encouragement, recognition, and sheer luck to be able to pursue their single-minded dream wholeheartedly. Good for them! Brava and bravo! Salutammi!

    But the rest of us? Not so much. We have multiple interests/skills. Not enough opportunities, education or encouragement. And/or multiple responsibilities that conflict with our employment, let alone our dreams. The fact of the matter is the trajectories of our lives didn’t all converge on the same point. “Eight hours for what you will.” Every time I hear someone humblebrag about their long hours (and it’s always someone with a cush job. Always. No exception), I can’t help but think: don’t they have any hobbies? Playing a musical instrument? Fishing? Hiking? Stargazing? Sitting on a beach with a good novel? Or in the theater for a good film? Shakespeare-in-the-Park? Don’t they have any friends? Family? People they like to spend time with? And: how do they get their laundry done? Who cooks for them? When do they have time to get a haircut? Get their eyes examined? Take their kid(s) to the doctor? Read their kids a story?

    And while we’re at it, it’s not just the physical plushness of certain jobs that can lend itself to such humblebragging. It’s the other amenities that most workers never receive: their own authority. Respect. Recognition. Thanks. Esteem. Most employees are not treated well by their employers, or even noticed at all. I’m a good electrician. I have the esteem and recognition of my brothers and sisters in my Local, and in a few other Locals too (where I stayed long enough for them to remember me—yeah, some of that word’s gotten back to me from local hands who’ve followed me to “parts unknown”—and yes, it feels really, really good. Redeeming, in fact, for all the bullshit I had to tolerate from back in the days when women weren’t respected…but I digress). But my employers? Almost none of them would even recognize me on the street. I’m just one more of the hundred-some or thousand-some they’ve employed over the years. If I died, they wouldn’t send a card to my family. If I had cancer, I’d just get a pink slip for “excessive absenteeism” for chemo trips and side-effects if I didn’t have the requisite year in to qualify for FMLA. Most workers are regarded as completely disposable. We are simply not persons of any note in the eyes of our employers. So tell me again why we should want to spend the precious, limited years of our lives in hock to them, instead of to the people who love us, care about us, enjoy our presence in the fullest? The people with/for whom we have non-transactional, reciprocal relationships with?

  27. 27
    RonF says:

    La Lubu:

    All the paper-pushers that brag about their “tough weeks” don’t have my tough week.

    One year Larry Bird had a tough year at the foul line. Didn’t make a good percentage. So over the summer he got the keys to a local gym, hired a couple of high school kids to shag balls, and spent hours shooting free throws. The next season he set the still-standing record for free throw percentage over a season.

    A reporter interviewed him about it. The reporter, referencing the above, congratulated Larry over the results of his hard work. Larry replied (not an exact quote) “Work? My father spent 40 years in the coal mines in Indiana. He worked for a living. I play basketball.”

    I’m in computer network operations. I put in some long and occasionally very late hours. But when people ask me about my job I tell them “It beats working for a living.”

    Every time I hear someone humblebrag about their long hours …. I can’t help but think: don’t they have any hobbies? Playing a musical instrument? Fishing? Hiking? Stargazing? Sitting on a beach with a good novel? Or in the theater for a good film? Shakespeare-in-the-Park?

    Got a lot of those in my line of work. I pretty much have the same reaction. Mind you, when the fecal material hits the rotary distributor I answer the call. But I’m pretty insistent that Scouts and singing are part of my life and there are times when I’m doing that and the call needs to go to someone else. I confess I do have fun when the conversation goes like this: “Nope, can’t cover that. I’m going to be at the opera. … No, I can’t switch my tickets. I don’t have tickets. I’m on stage.”

    Corporations will burn you up and spit you out when there’s nothing left. They are perfectly happy when you give up your whole life for them. When I got fired after putting in 12.5 years of long commutes and long hours for a Fortune 500 company because there was a merger (internal, mind you) and they decided that it would be profitable to lay off 600 people, I realized that I needed to work to live, not live to work.

    Most workers are regarded as completely disposable.

    I tell people “We’re all just cells in a spreadsheet.”

    I’m a good electrician.

    That’s a skill highly valued around my professional colleagues. We prize dependability above all else, and if someone fucks up the wiring or the electrical panel banks of racks of servers and routers might take a shit and we watch $100,000′s an hour in SLA violations fly out the door.

    Grace:

    As I guard construction zones,

    A risky job – both yours and the people doing the construction. I wouldn’t want to do it. One of my wife’s colleagues was made a widow because of some fool who sped almost all the way through a construction zone. Now it’s $10,000 and 14 years here in Illinois if you kill a worker in a construction zone.

  28. 28
    mythago says:

    I’m sure there’s more to it that I don’t understand

    As a fellow JD, gin-and-whiskey, I find it extremely difficult to believe that your post was about a lack of understanding as opposed to deliberately slinging bullshit.

    Senior electricians billing $50/hour? No lawyer I know – not even new grads who work 40 hours a week at government legal jobs – price their hourly fee that low. What’s your billing rate, g&w? And have you told your Some Of My Best Friends Are Blue Collar senior tradesman how much an attorney with the equivalent time in the game bills per hour? It’s well over two digits, as we both know.

    Regarding law school and debt, BigLaw hiring is up; a student who went go a T14 school and did well can get a job paying $150K and more out of the gate, which doesn’t include benefits and bonuses, and as we both know it only goes up from there. Those poor, poor overworked lawyers who get to the partner level make millions of dollars a year in profits per partner. If only they’d gone into the trades!

    Regarding your comment about our poor 24-year-old law grad not wanting to work law firm hours, here’s a current (as of this post) listing for a Legal Aid job in Texas, with a floor of $53K for salary, ranging up to $99K depending on experience. And, as I’m sure you are perfectly aware, there are plenty of programs to defer and forgive law school debt for students who go into public interest work.

    Oh, and like the rest of your argument, your musings about law school debt appear to be taken straight from pulledoutofmyass.com. Even hugely indebted students aren’t in the hole for $350K, as you suggest.

    I don’t understand this bitching among white-collar professionals about how our jobs are so haaaaaard and everybody should feel sorry for us, because our lives are way harder than the garbage collector or the barrista or the guy who maintains our hot tubs. Save the griping about 20-hour document production marathons for happy hour and stop pretending that people who do harder work for less money are living like kings.

  29. 29
    RonF says:

    Hey, mythago, pulledoutofmyass.com is available! GoDaddy owns it and wants $70/year. We should buy it and start a blog together.

  30. 30
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    Senior electricians billing $50/hour? No lawyer I know – not even new grads who work 40 hours a week at government legal jobs – price their hourly fee that low.

    Neither do senior electricians. Are we talking about what people get paid, or what they bill out? I bill out in the low three figures; I take home about 20% of my hourly rate if you count a 40 hour week and much less if you count my actual hours.

    Regarding law school and debt, BigLaw hiring is up; a student who went go a T14 school and did well

    Yes, you’re right, but so what?
    The top 1/2 of the students (I’ll grant you “did well” as “top half” though it’s probably more like “top 25%”) who attend the top 10% of schools (top 14 out of more than 150) can get a great job. Lucky them! Oh, hell, I’ll even grant you “top 20% of all law students” though i think that’s a stretch.
    Of course, the people who are able to get into a T14 school and graduate in the top half of their class are probably going to do pretty darn well in a variety of careers. I don’t see how that’s especially relevant.

    (Not to mention that average law firms are a bit like a pyramid scheme. They may hire 10 associates/year but they only add 1 partner/year. Don’t forget to account for the 9 lost associates)

    Regarding your comment about our poor 24-year-old law grad not wanting to work law firm hours, here’s a current (as of this post) listing for a Legal Aid job in Texas, with a floor of $53K for salary

    OK. So a starting attorney at this particular job (if you manage to get the job right out of law school, which is by no means a guarantee) makes $53k, for which they are going to be working a hell of a lot more than 40 hours/week (do you know any legal aid attorneys? I do.) At $40 hours/week that equates to $26.50/hour. It pretty rapidly goes below $25/hour as the weekly hours go up.

    And, as I’m sure you are perfectly aware, there are plenty of programs to defer and forgive law school debt for students who go into public interest work.

    Yes, there are some. Which is why jobs like this are not especially easy to get.

    Oh, and like the rest of your argument, your musings about law school debt appear to be taken straight from pulledoutofmyass.com. Even hugely indebted students aren’t in the hole for $350K, as you suggest.

    Really?
    College is four years and law school is three years. At $25k/year that’s $175k in tuition. Whether you pay from it in savings or whether you pay for it in loans, the cost is still there.
    But that’s also seven years when you don’t work. Assuming an alternate salary of $25k/year on average across all seven years, that’s another $175k in opportunity costs. That totals to $350k.
    We can quibble about the precise numbers, but unless you want to put out some alternate ones and explain why you think yours are more correct, I’m not going to bother explaining mine further.

    I don’t understand this bitching among white-collar professionals about how our jobs are so haaaaaard and everybody should feel sorry for us, because our lives are way harder than the garbage collector or the barrista or the guy who maintains our hot tubs.

    Huh? No, my life is WAY easier than it would be if it was in the trades. Or as a garbage collector. Haven’t said otherwise. Nice straw man, though, where’d you find his hat?

    College and grad school are higher risk, higher reward, higher cost-of-entry professions than the trades. Compared to tradespeople, highly-educated folks are trading off a significant # of years “upside down” in the hopes of making a future profit that pays off their investment. That general process is pretty well established.

    When it pays off, it’s great.
    When it doesn’t pay off, you’re fucked.

  31. 31
    mythago says:

    We can quibble about the precise numbers, but unless you want to put out some alternate ones and explain why you think yours are more correct, I’m not going to bother explaining mine further.

    I put a link to ‘some alternate ones’ right in my comment, g&w. Right there. In the same paragraph you’re grumbling about. Here it is, again:

    http://grad-schools.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-graduate-schools/top-law-schools/grad-debt-rankings

    The nice thing about these numbers is that it splits them by law school – so you can see that grads of Thomas Jefferson, not exactly a T14 school, are unlikely to get good jobs paying off that debt, while grads of UC Berkeley have only slightly lower debt, but as I doubt anyone would disagree, much better career prospects.

    Re careers and billing, exactly. You keep doing this apples to oranges thing where you make wild assumptions that skilled tradesmen have steady, year-round employment throughout their lives – despite La Lubu and Grace pointing out to you that you are flat-out wrong* – but when it comes to attorneys, suddenly you want to talk about the job market. You demanded to know what new grad could possibly pop out with a $50K job in this market, and when pointed to an actual job opening complained that doesn’t count because it’s competitive – as if construction jobs are going begging.

    (Actually, they ARE going begging in San Francisco, because nobody can afford to live here even on a generous union salary, even if they didn’t have to worry about layoffs and slack time.)

    Yes, I do know legal aid attorneys, who do thankless work but aren’t trying to hit billables of 2500 hours a year, either. (You and I also probably know attorneys who work for the government – and that those jobs don’t require 80+ hours a week, either, which is why they are much sought-after by people who want to have a family life.)

    Also, this:

    But that’s also seven years when you don’t work.

    Really, you didn’t work at all in college or law school? Never had a summer job, never had work-study, never had a clerkship, didn’t spend your 1L and 2L summers trying to get an associate position that would develop into a permanent position, the latter being the traditional way that law firms find new associates?

    @RonF, I actually owned that domain for a while but sadly let it slide due to inattention.

    *I also find it very difficult to believe that somebody who is on good enough terms with construction tradesmen to talk salary with them has no clue about the unreliable nature of that work.

  32. 32
    Grace Annam says:

    Mythago:

    despite La Lubu and Grace pointing out to you that you are flat-out wrong

    While gin-and-whiskey and I do argue a lot, in fairness to him I must point out that this was La Lubu’s point, not mine. I just crowded my soapbox up next to her podium in order to riff off of one of her tangents.

    That said, the whole “not working in college” thing did strike me as weird. I went to college surrounded by people wealthier than I was, but plenty of them worked, and I know I worked a lot of hours on work-study. To the detriment of my studies, in fact.

    Do people who can’t afford to pay for school also not work to pay for school? That strikes me as rather shortsighted, and a foolishness which would cut across the other stuff we’re talking about. But I have not looked deeply into this and may be embarrassing myself, here, so, keeping Richard’s most recent thread in mind, I’ll stop talking now.

    Grace

  33. 33
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    I said $175k. Your numbers show $140k to $180k on the first page. Why do you say we’re so far off? And of course that is DEBT, which is to say that it doesn’t account for past payments, family help, use of savings, and the like. I was discussing OPPORTUNITY COST, which is a different metric as you surely know.

    Really, you didn’t work at all in college or law school? Never had a summer job, never had work-study, never had a clerkship, didn’t spend your 1L and 2L summers trying to get an associate position that would develop into a permanent position, the latter being the traditional way that law firms find new associates?

    Because you seem to keep asking about me personally (why?) I suppose I’ll answer: I worked summers through college mostly at waitstaff jobs. I did unpaid internships in law school at a good government site, mostly because 2 out of my 3 kids were born during law school and I did not want to miss their entire infancies.

    Again, I think you may be forgetting that only the top few percent of ALL law students nationwide are working in BIGLAW or at well paid associate positions. And that most clerkships don’t pay. And that many college positions (at least many of the most useful ones) are “volunteer.” I’ve had some very very smart people begging me for $10/hour jobs because it was all they could get.

    And of course I’ve been discussing opportunity cost, which doesn’t ask “how much did you make” but rather “how much less did you make on average than you would have made?” If you make $5k/summer and would have made $30k you still have an opportunity cost of $25k
    In that light $25k/year is pretty low. It’s especially low for the law school portion, since a college grad will generally make quite a bit more than $25k/year.

    Re careers and billing, exactly. You keep doing this apples to oranges thing where you make wild assumptions that skilled tradesmen have steady, year-round employment throughout their lives – despite La Lubu and Grace pointing out to you that you are flat-out wrong – but when it comes to attorneys, suddenly you want to talk about the job market.

    I don’t know which “wild assumptions” you think I’ve made.* I think you might be reading much more into my words than I actually said.

    You demanded to know what new grad could possibly pop out with a $50K job in this market,

    Great example. I would never say that, because I know multiple people who have had that happen. I DO think that these jobs are both rare and hard to get, and are not often available to people outside the relative top percentages of the overall graduating class. To the best of my knowledge this is not changing any time soon. See, e.g., http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-06-20/the-employment-rate-falls-again-for-recent-law-school-graduates

    and when pointed to an actual job opening complained that doesn’t count because it’s competitive – as if construction jobs are going begging.

    A job opening is nice, but not incredibly relevant as you might see from that article above.

    As I’ve already conceded, I am probably wrong about electricians generally, and have been biased by their relatively high salaries in my locale.* You’re wrong about lawyers.

    *And if you really want “apples to apples” you also have to consider candidates. IOW you would have to compare people who, based on skills and motivation, could have gotten into law school–or, in your somewhat more extreme view, people who could have gotten into a T14 law school, graduated in the top half of their class, and landed a nice BIGLAW internship. Want to take a guess whether those people are more likely to be at the top or bottom of the electrician pay scale?

  34. 34
    mythago says:

    gin-and-whiskey, I am wrong about lawyers because I am applying your arguments about the rosy careers of tradesmen such as electricians – which, after being taken to task by someone who is actually working as an electrician, you still cannot do more than admit are “probably” wrong – to the legal profession. That’s kind of the whole point.