Income is not a determinator of class, and to think of class in such terms is to miss the point that class is a social relation, not a category. Income, however, can be used as an indicator of class relations, as wage levels are usually, although not always, related to the types of positions people hold within the workplace, the type of work they do, the amount of power and influence they have over their working environment, conditions of employment, levels of education, and so on. Here we’re talking broad strokes, macro-stuff, the way the machine works, not its individual constituents. Wages, along with other forms of data, can help us achieve an understanding of how the wider economic relations on the island play out – the skeletal framework which allows us to delve more deeply into the social, cultural and political realities of class dynamics in a modern, capitalist economy.
However, there are enough commentators within the Irish media who are all too willing to see class purely in terms of income, and to see income as the main determinator of class. They maintain that Ireland has a majority middle class, with a working class rump and a lucky few at the top. And they cite Ireland’s wage levels as perfect proof of the middle class majority.
Thing is, even under their own terms of reference, Ireland does not have a huge middle class. In fact, not surprisingly, the type of wage levels we have are broadly reflective of the type of jobs we have, and an analysis of both points towards a working class majority in this jurisdiction.
The National Employment Survey (NES) FOR 2007 was released last week and contains a wealth of information on wages and work structures in Ireland. In terms of class relations, what’s interesting is its finding that the median of Irish wage levels is €16.29 per hour – that is, 50% of employees surveyed earned less than €16.29 per hour. The NES established 34.4 hrs per week as the average, which gives us a working figure of 50% of the Irish workers surveyed in October 2007 earning less than €29,140 a year before tax and deductions.
The figure of €16.29 is the median of private and public sector, male and female, Dublin and other regions.
The median hourly rate for the private sector alone, however, is €14.77, which gives a yearly gross income (based on 34.4 hrs per week) of around €26,420. That means that half of the private sector workforce in Ireland is earning between €8.65 (the minimum wage) and €14.77 per hour.
Furthermore, the median hourly rate for females in the private sector is €12.94, which gives a yearly gross income of around €23,147.
These yearly figures can only be ball-park figures, as there are structural difference between the public and private sector, as well as hours worked per week within the private sector itself – women are more likely to work part-time, etc. Even with that, though, women in the private sector earn from 75-83% of what their male counterparts earn per year.
The NES is not a sample of the entire workforce. Those involved in agriculture, forestry and fishing (118,700, of which 21,500 are employees) are not part of the survey. Nor are the self-employed, or employees of firms and businesses of less than three people. Also, each employee has to have been employed for at least a year with the firm/business in order to qualify for the survey. Anyone who is with the firm for less than 12 months is disregarded. This means that out of an estimated employed workforce (self or otherwise) of 2.139 million in October 2007, 1.72 million fitted the criteria for the NES.
Of those 1.72 million full-time and part-time employees, the NES surveyed 60,000 – a sample of around 3.5%.
So, what we are looking at here is a survey of those in medium to long-term employment in October 2007. They have been with the company/firm/business/public/semi-state sector for at least one year, and each workplace has at least three people as employees.
The survey has some interesting things to tell us about the composition of the public sector, the type of jobs and type of wages, as well as the distribution of wage levels across the sampled sector. We’ll deal with those later on, but just for now, if you’re reading this and in October 2007 you were earning more than gross €35,000 a year (basic + bonuses), you’re in the top 34% of wage earners. The rest of us (around 66%) were earning less than that, with half of us earning less than €29,140 a year, and 13.6% of us earning less than €19,000 a year – and that’s after at least one year employed with the relevant company.
The median hourly rate for professionals was €29.90. On average, professionals worked 32.3 hours per week (see table 8 of the NEC), which gives a median yearly wage of around €50,220.
The median hourly rate for managers and administrators was €25, and these people worked an average of 36.6 hours per week, giving a yearly median gross of around €47,580.
At the lower end of the middle class scale – those under “associate professional and technical” – we’re looking at a median hourly rate of €20.77, and an average of 35 hours per week. That gives us a median yearly wage of around €37,800, which is about 30% higher than the national median (higher hourly rate, but also slightly more hours per week).
The spread of wage rates says a lot about the manner of work in Ireland. First of all, the broad outline.
Here we have the amount of people working in each of the eleven employment sectors used by the Quarterly Household Survey. This one is from around the same time as the National Employment Survey, the last quarter of 2007. These figures cover the total estimated employed workforce of 2.139 million.
Below, we have a breakdown of the occupations of those surveyed by the NES in October 2007.
It’s hard to get at an understanding of the class relations as depicted in the sectors above – what is an “associated professional”, for example, and what is “other”?
However, let’s work with what we have, and let’s place together the managers, administrators, professionals, associate professionals and technical, and “other,” as incorporating the middle class occupations of managerial and professional status. It works out at a figure of 716,400 – leaving 1,003,500 as employed in clerical and secretarial, craft and related trades, personal and protective services, sales, and plant and machine operatives. That’s a 41% to 59% breakdown, which is not that far from our 34% to 66% breakdown of those earning more than €20 per hour, and those earning less than €20 per hour.
The idea of 59% of the workforce in working class occupations is not that far from the wage figures of over 50% of all workers earning between €10 and €20 per hour, of 13.6% earning less than €10 an hour, and of 50% of all workers earning less than €16.29 per hour.
There are three other sections of the report which deserve attention, and they are the parts which deal with the structural makeup of the public sector, the educational background of those on low to high wages, and the difference in pay between Irish and non-Irish workers. We’ll deal with them during the week.
For now, though, just briefly we’ll look at the median wage rates with regard to educational attainment.
The survey points out that “just over half (52.8%) of all public sector employees had third-level qualifications, compared with 31.9% in the private sector. Nearly 40% of public sector employees had a third level degree or higher qualification compared to 19.9% in the private sector. Around a quarter (24.5%) of private sector employees had a primary or lower secondary qualification while in the public sector 17.9% of employees had this qualification.” (p.10).
We know from the 2006 census that there were 820,760 people in Ireland who had a third level qualification of two years’ study or more. One year later, in October 2007, the estimated total labour force was 2,239,900. This is not the most ideal of circumstances, but if we take the 2006 figure and analyze it with regard to the 2007 figure for the labour force, we’re looking at a rough figure of around 36% of the total labour force in possession of a third level qualification from a course of two or more years’ duration. Once again we’re hitting that ball-park 35% to 65% breakdown.
From the viewpoint of wages, or occupation, or employment status, or education, we’re constantly coming up with the majority of the population in working class jobs, with working class levels of pay.
The middle class majority is a middle class myth.with
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