I’m home with the flu today. I’m feeling shitty so if you want to blame this post on that, feel free.
The Hong Kong Economic Times reports that the current starting salary for a university graduate in the IT field is HK$12,000 per month. That’s roughly US$1,560 per month or US$18,720 per year.
Restaurant workers in Hong Kong can get HK$10,000 a month and maybe even some tips on top of that.
Of course, an IT worker with a few years experience will see his or her salary go up a fair amount – if they’re smart and if they’re working for the right company. In most cases, if they’re working for a local company and don’t make it into the ranks of management, they will top out at around the HK$20-25k per month mark. (I’ve known people with PhDs earning this amount.) The best ones will go to work for an ibank, where they can earn double that, or try to start their own company.
These are programmers and sysadmins we’re talking about, the same skills that can earn a six figure annual income in the US. Here they make so little that they have to live with their parents until they get married so there’s a second income to help pay the rent.
I know this is a fact because I see the salaries of the people who work for me (and it’s something that I’m essentially powerless to do anything about since I don’t set these numbers in the company I work for or the ones I worked for in the past).
Side story: Not my current workplace, but my previous one. I was online at Subway to get lunch and saw one of my programmers standing in line in about 5 people in front of me. A guy who was earning just about HK$11,000 per month. They told him HK$30 for the sandwich. He asked to use Octopus, and was told they don’t accept that. He didn’t have HK$30 (US$3.90 in his pocket! He turned to walk out of there without any food. I tapped him on the shoulder and handed him the money to pay for his lunch. You know what he asked me? “Do you have enough cash left for yourself?” I think this is the daily reality for a lot of people in HK.
This vaguely leads me into a rant that I’ve had sitting in my drafts folder for several months.
Every time people complain about the rising residential and commercial rents, we are told that nothing can be done because Hong Kong is the world’s freest market economy.
Every time people complain about the massive influx of mainland
tourists shoppers overwhelming almost every aspect of daily Hong Kong life, we are told it is good for the economy.
We are lied to on a daily basis.
Today, over 1.6 million people, more than 300,000 of them elderly, live in poverty in Hong Kong. How is this even remotely acceptable in “Asia’s World City”? Why do we accept the fact that we live in a place where the elderly go from trash bin to trash bin looking for recyclable materials (cardboard, beer cans, etc.) so that they can get a few dollars for a bowl of instant noodles for dinner when our government has billions of dollars of excess tax income just sitting there?
Rapidly rising unregulated commercial rents serve to benefit only a small handful of billionaire landlords. We read almost daily reports about how family businesses that have thrived for generations are forced to shut down.
The high price of rent is reflected in the high prices we pay for food, goods and services – it is in effect a hidden tax burden that must be carried by all Hong Kong residents. The artificial housing shortage created to benefit the Hong Kong billionaires only makes matters worse.
We’ve had ten years of increasing numbers of mainland tourists streaming across the border and there has been almost no benefit at all for the average Hong Kong citizen. The only benefit has been the creation of more jobs at the very lowest rungs of the ladder, the minimum wage rung and the barely above minimum wage rung.
Salaries at the bottom rungs of the ladder have remained flat in Hong Kong for a decade or more. The minimum wage in Hong Kong is HK$30 per hour. So someone who works an 8 hour day and a six day workweek can earn HK$6,240 per month, barely above US$800 per month or HK$74,880 per year.
The Confederation of Trade Unions ran a study with security guards, earning from $30 to $35 per hour. “Thirty-nine percent claimed it was a constant struggle to buy enough food to get by, while 37 percent said it was virtually impossible to find rent money. The vice chairman of the confederation, Tommy Yu Chung-yiu, noted that inflation increased 4.5 percent last year and so security guards felt the pinch worse than most, given their pay.”
In the U.S., they are discussing raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10. From The Atlantic, “Increasing the minimum to $10.10 an hour, as Democrats have proposed, would eliminate about 500,000 jobs. On the other hand, they also find it would pull 900,000 people out of poverty, and put around $19 billion into the pockets of low- and middle-income families. About 16.5 million workers would get a pay bump. Wealthier families see their real income drop a bit, as business profits slip and prices rise somewhat.”
I’m not an economist (and I don’t play one on TV either) but I think one might safely assume that a larger bump in the HK minimum wage (the last increase, in 2013, was US$0.26 per hour) would have a similar impact here. The billionaires might have to get one less bowl of sharks fin soup at Fook Lam Moon per year (boo hoo!) while a significant portion of the Hong Kong population might be able to stop eating cat food for dinner.
No, I don’t know the answer. Except I know that Hong Kong’s current answer, which is essentially doing nothing, definitely isn’t the answer.
More on this later I’m sure.