Monday, July 04, 2005

Living Wages

At some point, the idealism of one's youth falls away and the business of living begins. A man supporting his family in the traditional way must ask himself: have I used my intellect and work ethic to be compensated in a way I deserve?

This question is coming up in regard to Blain practicing family medicine, working as hard as any physician, and being compensated at the bottom of the physician pay scale. The reasons why this has seemed unquestionably ok until now were idealogical--Blain wanted to be a doctor in order to influence the whole person, to practice holistic medicine, and family medicine is the only specialty where that can really happen. I took his idealism in stride, supported it even, finding a romanticism in a man who wanted to be an old-fashioned country doctor, making the occasional house call, concerned to the core for his fellowbeings.

Just over a year out of residency, we've already re-thought our ideas of living well--Blain doesn't make house calls, and he's beginning to contemplate ways to specialize within family medicine (the goal being working fewer hours for greater compensation). For my part, the romanticism of a frequently absent husband quickly tarnished, and though I've become an adept lone parent, it is frequently draining and depressing. We've also realized that some things we thought his one income would allow are simply not going to be affordable.

Having identified B.I. as the place where we'd like to live, to buy/build a home, to build our lifestyle that we've imagined, I'm also seeing an ongoing financial stress. It seems to me that we have to re-evaluate our hoped-for lifestyle and figure out how to scale it back without giving up quality of life, or pick a less expensive place to live (a place with lower housing costs, and one closer to family in order to save plane fares), or figure out how to increase our income. The haunting line from D. H. Lawrence's "The Rocking Horse Winner"--"There must be more money!" starts to whisper at me.

And yet, that is ridiculous. A couple who earn a third less than we do would be able to live, with three children, comfortably. I realize that all along, I've been assuming that we would be:
*flying rather than driving to visit family
*taking warm-weather vacations most winters
*doing occasional international travel
*owning a comfortably large house (between 2,500-3,000 sq. ft) on about an acre of land
*paying for private school or living in a district of a top-performing public school, hence B.I.
*donating to charities, philanthropical work, etc.

Perhaps I'm just now realizing that everyone, no matter what their income (within reason) feels like they're squeezing in everything possible into their budget (including savings, hopefully). I feel the easy expansiveness of "living on a doctor's income" quickly ebbing--I realize that it will always take careful budgeting and prioritizing, especially if we're giving any significant amount of that income to others.

Undergirding all the questions about how to use the income is the initial question of whether Blain, as a family practice doctor, has chosen a good way to earn a living. For now, the answer is yes.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought I was reading " The Egg and I" again!

2:13 PM  

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