Who, you might be wondering, is Law Professor Todd Henderson and just what kind of problems does he have? Well he teaches at the University of Chicago Law School and his problem is that he and his lovely wife, who works at the University of Chicago Hospitals, combined make more than $250,000 a year and are struggling to make ends meet. On top of all of that, Obama is going to raise their taxes by letting the Bush Tax Cuts expire at the end of the year! Oh noes!
Here’s why the good professor is struggling:
The biggest expense for us is financing government. Last year, my wife and I paid nearly $100,000 in federal and state taxes, not even including sales and other taxes. This amount is so high because we can’t afford fancy accountants and lawyers to help us evade taxes and we are penalized by the tax code because we choose to be married and we both work outside the home. (If my wife and I divorced or were never married, the government would write us a check for tens of thousands of dollars. Talk about perverse incentives.)
Our next biggest expense, like most people, is our mortgage. Homes near our work in Chicago aren’t cheap and we do not have friends who were willing to help us finance the deal. We chose to invest in the University community and renovate and old property, but we did so at an inopportune time.
We pay about $15,000 in property taxes, about half of which goes to fund public education in Chicago. Since we care the education of our three children, this means we also have to pay to send them to private school. My wife has school loans of nearly $250,000 and I do too, although becoming a lawyer is significantly cheaper. We try to invest in our retirement by putting some money in the stock market, something that these days sounds like a patriotic act. Our account isn’t worth much, and is worth a lot less than it used to be.
Like most working Americans, insurance, doctors’ bills, utilities, two cars, daycare, groceries, gasoline, cell phones, and cable TV (no movie channels) round out our monthly expenses. We also have someone who cuts our grass, cleans our house, and watches our new baby so we can both work outside the home. At the end of all this, we have less than a few hundred dollars per month of discretionary income. We occasionally eat out but with a baby sitter, these nights take a toll on our budget. Life in America is wonderful, but expensive.
Now the good professor doesn’t reveal exactly how much they do earn, just that it’s more than the $250,000 a year that Obama is targeting, but he does dispute the suggestion that it’s on the order of $400,000 a year as one person has claimed it to be. The best we can manage is that it’s somewhere between $250,000 and $400,000 a year which may not be a whole lot of money for your typical university law professor and his doctor wife, I wouldn’t know, but it does seem like an amount one should be able to live on without going beyond their means.
By comparison I made at the top of my career $72,000 one year, but that was a long time ago and if you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time then you know I’ve been struggling as well. The last couple of years saw me earning $40,000 a year with my wife, who busts her ass at a group home for people with Traumatic Brain Injuries, earning an additional $20,000 a year for a grand total of $60,000 a year or so. With my contract running out at end of April and only being able to find a three-month (so far) job at $13.00 an hour, we’re well on our way to earning quite a bit less than $60,000 this year.
Unlike Mr. Henderson, our biggest expense is not paying taxes to the government as we have our jobs taking out enough that we will almost assuredly get a refund at the end of the year, but we do share the problem of not earning enough to have fancy accountants to find tax loopholes. Unlike Mr. Henderson, I do not own a home as I have not been able to afford to buy one as of yet. Instead I pay $775 a month in rent for a three floor townhouse in Ann Arbor that gives us the luxury of having an unfinished basement. Like Mr. Henderson, we are still paying off my wife’s college loans which is part of why I haven’t taken any out for myself to continue working on the networking degree I started on in 2008. Unlike Mr. Henderson I don’t send my children to private school. In part because my one child is an adult now, but when she was a child we couldn’t afford private schools and if I had a kid today I still wouldn’t be able to afford it. Neither my wife nor I have any retirement savings at the moment let alone anything invested in the stock market.
We share a similar list of bills including insurance, doctor’s bills, utilities, but only one car at the moment, groceries, gasoline, cell phones, and cable TV with no movie channels. We technically have someone to cut our grass, but only because we live in an apartment. We clean our own house. We don’t have a need (currently) for a baby sitter. At the end of the month we don’t even have a hundred dollars in discretionary income.
Speaking of insurance and doctor’s bills, I just this week developed a tooth ache and had to go the dentist. Something we’ve been meaning to do for some time, but haven’t had the extra cash to do because our insurance only covers so much of any given procedure and has a $1,000 maximum yearly benefit. I bet Professor Henderson’s dental insurance is just a whee bit better than that. Turns out I needed three root canals, three crowns and to finally extract the one remaining wisdom tooth I have. I won’t go into detail on why my mouth was in such bad shape other than to say that we’ve only had insurance intermittently over the past five years and when we did have it it was pretty crappy so a lot of stuff that should’ve been done ages ago kept getting put off until finally my mouth decided we had put things off long enough. The insurance covered all but $165 of the first root canal. The remaining two, plus the three crowns and the wisdom extraction, will set me back another $3,700 which I had to take out a loan to afford (and am still about $700 short on). Still got one more root canal, the extraction, and the crowns left to go.
So you’ll have to excuse me, Professor Henderson, but I find it difficult to be sympathetic to your problems. If I were a betting man I’d say it’s likely you don’t have to take out a loan to get your teeth fixed. Nor do you have to put off dental work because the co-pays are too high to get it done when it should be, but I could be wrong. It’s entirely possible your mouth is in as bad a shape as mine because your gardener is so expensive.
All I can say is, if I were earning more than $250,000 a year I’d have no problems living within my means. The year I made $72K was quite comfortable as I recall and I’d be happy with just getting back to that level. At the moment I’d be tickled pink if I could just manage to find another $40K a year job like I’ve had the past couple of years. But again, perhaps I’m being unfair. Perhaps it’s just not possible for some people to live within their means on only $250K a year.
My suggestion would be that he swallow his pride and do what I did: Ask his readers for donations to help out. He’s a blogger with a fairly decent audience it seems and there are a lot of folks who appreciate us taking the time to share our views on the net. Considering the number of people who have helped me out when all I do is shoot my mouth off I’m sure that someone who blogs about teaching law at a major university would be considered an even more valuable resource worth supporting with a few bucks here and there. After his post about how he’s struggling to make ends meet on such a meager income I’m sure there’d be plenty of folks willing to help out.
Alas, my suggestion comes too late as it appears that Professor Henderson’s self-pity party has resulted in something of a backlash that has caused him to quit blogging altogether:
The reason for this note is because I’ve decided to hang up my blogging hat. I was a fool, and I didn’t anticipate how this kind of thing could happen. As many of our readers and my students know, I’m opinionated and willing to push boundaries. This is what I think is the role of a professor, and blogging allowed me to do it in an informal and diverse manner. But I misunderstood the technology, and the consequences are devastating for me personally. I wish I had just stuck to blogging about corporate law and such, but I couldn’t help myself. Self restraint would have been the better course. Perhaps someday I will return and limit my commentary to my academic areas of interest. For now though, I have to say good bye. I’ve enjoyed the experience and the interactions I’ve had with readers and, of course, my co-bloggers. I am sad to leave, but my family has to come first, and my blogging has caused them incalculable damage.
Your family has been caused incalculable damage? Really? Is it incalculable because you’re not a math professor or because some folks said some mean things to you and you’re not sure what kind of price tag to put on that? Granted your whine attracted national media attention and I’m sure you got more than a few people telling you to fuck off and die in a fire, but I’m not sure I see how it caused you and your family incalculable damage unless you or someone in your family was fired from their jobs and then hit with a being-a-whiny-bitch fine or something.
But be sure to let me know if you end up in the gutter as a drunken wino anytime soon and I’ll see if I can’t eek out a few bucks to send your way. I’m with you brother, I feel your pain.