Graphic Design/Graphic Art have historically been know to be considered good careers, with competitive wages. But in recent times, with the advent of private trade schools popping up everywhere, designers today are encountering a situation where there lies market saturation.
As these private schools churn out more and more degreed Graphic Designers we see a phenomenon of market saturation that drives down the wages for that particular market. The situation can be harrowing to say the least. Take for instance the Albuquerque, NM market. New Mexico has long been known for low wages, income inequality, poverty, etc.
Back when I was still in school, the school we attended give job postings to their favorite students. The ones they deemed suitable. But often these jobs working for sign shops or printers offered little more than $7-$8 per hour. The problem with this situation as more and more “wet behind the ears” junior designer take these low paying jobs, it drives down the wages for the whole market. It creates a transpiration where employers don’t pay designer what they’re worth.
The first graphic design job I took was in a small town, and I initially started at $8 per hour. After nearly five years, I had made only about $10.50 per hour. These were considered good wages for the small town I was situated in, as there really weren’t any jobs that paid that much, save for a few factories on the outskirts of town. Still, $10.50 per hour was difficult and challenging. Back then I was in a situation where things were at least sustainable, but I was going nowhere fast.
I had to make a move eventually. Things in my life had changed in scope from necessity to survival, and I had to make a move. It has taken tremendous continual sacrifice, discipline, tenacity and persistence, but I can say with pretty fair certainty that I now make much higher wages than most designers in the Albuquerque, NM market. I have also expanded on my skills exponentially and grown not only as a designer, but in photography, motion graphics, video and audio.
In many cases I’m lucky, and in others I make sacrifices few others would make, but often I think about other designers out there struggling with low income and dignity. I learned when I left my first graphic design job that I was actually the highest paid designer. And with the corporate attrition model they never replaced my position. I assumed they would have given my former coworker a pay bump since my position no longer existed. To this day, that poor girl has NOT seen a raise, and was making less than me to begin with. It is very sad.
True story; One evening, someone made a phone call to Dominion Graphics. This happens from time-to-time, as years ago I let those third rate phone book companies list me. I get lots of requests from business cards to photo touch up, signs, etc. But that one evening that one phone call was different. It was from a young woman, calling on behalf of her husband. It seems he had been out of work, as a Graphic Designer, and she found my listing, and called in the hopes that I was hiring. Sadly, I was not, and explained to her the then model Dominion Graphics was operating on; cottage industry.
Our conversation took on another tone, the young woman was drunk, and ranting about what hard times her and her husband had fallen on, and how bleak things were for Graphic Designers. Her poor husband had even attended the same school as I, and owed lots of money in Student Loans. In a bizarre twist this young, married woman began flirting with me. I had to let her off the phone, but after hanging up I found myself reflective of how hard and harrowing times are for many people in this country, and in these times.
That former coworker of mine was recently diagnosed with MS. In her early 30s no less. And that former workplace of mine had been reduced to only one person doing what three of us had once done. My heart goes out to those who struggle continually to make ends meet. We designers should make better efforts to be better advocates of one-another, instead of corporate-conditioned competitors, driving eachother’s wages down, stepping on heads to climb to the top, or manuevering around ingeniously and kissing up to Executive Staff. We ought to advocate for one-another, this is our livelihood.