The dream salary for Hungarians? Less than you think

A completely unrepresentative sample says 1000 euros.

Yesterday, I ran across an interesting Facebook post in one of Hungary’s most populous Facebook group, Overheard in Pest (Pesten Hallottam). The group is closed so I can’t link to the post. But the group has 432 thousand members – while the population of Budapest is just under 2 million, depending how you count it – and 432 thousand is a considerable number. Such a group is an appealing place to post your 15-minutes-of-fame posts, your pretty photos or your humblebragging, and this is where you upload a photo of the funny message you found on a banknote.

Or indeed such a group is often the target of political influencing.

Pesten hallottam fizu

“How much monthly salary would make you satisfied, let you live well?” (Source: Facebook)

Out of 1400 commenters 320 gave a serious, quantified answer. Many comments were deleted, and I also excluded the trolls and the jokers. There were many suggesting 47 thousand forints (140 euros) referring to a Fidesz politician who suggested that one could make a living on that. Per month. I also excluded the hysterically funny commenters who dreamed about salaries over 1 million forints. 1 million forints is only 3000 euros, but not a realistic salary in Hungary.

The remaining 320 commenters are not representative. They can live anywhere, have any family situation, married, divorced, with or without children or cats. These things do matter, but not for this little sociological experiment.

Pesten hallottam dream salaries

Out of 320 respondents, most wished for a 300 thousand forint monthly take-home salary (that’s 938 euros on the chart) 

Out of 320 respondents, 11 wished for a monthly take-home salary below 600 euros. This is what they dreamed about, so they were currently earning less that that.

Most wished for a 300 thousand forints net salary (that’s 938 euros on the chart). Many were also dreaming about the magic 500 thousand forint mark (1563 euros – 48 respondents), but the higher they dreamed, the most brutally they got knocked down by fellow commenters.

In fact, the most striking feature of the post was how many people took it upon themselves to educate their fellow citizens on not to dream too big. Above the 1250 euro mark the reactions became quite vicious. Without any prior knowledge of each other’s age, education or family situation, these bitter commenters accused others of being lazy, not having enough education, and suggested them humility, frugality, learning to count every forint and reining in their obscene demands. Above 1200 euros…

It was also striking that the put-downers didn’t really care about nuances, they just came to signal their own hard working and non-spending character, an obvious sign that they have been socialized that way and are quite bitter about it.

Some didn’t get the question and went into sanctimonious sermons about how nothing ever is enough because increasing demands follow increasing means. They received a big, eagerly nodding choir of fellow sanctimonious people – even if the absurd, wishful dream salary in question was only 670 euros a month.

“I could write something huge like 200000 (EUR 670 – ed.), or even infinity, but nothing would ever be enough. Today we want a car, tomorrow it will be a house, we always want more. Then something even bigger. We are only human…” 

The “it depends” squad was also large, but at least many have offered an insight into their own finances.

“I keep my family on 145000 (EUR 450 – ed.) + CSOK mortgage… Even though I have a degree and work in my profession. You can technically make a living on this – but it is literally only “living” (i.e. we don’t starve). On top of this 145 my wife receives child benefits, so it’s 200000 altogether a month (EUR 670 – ed.) . The three of us. It is relative what’s enough. For us, even 50 thousand more (EUR 160 – ed.)would make a huge difference. But 4-500 thousand would be enough.” 

Someone offered an insight into the reality of the new public servant wage increase by the generous ministry. The wages are very political these days and ever since the government was attacked for how low they are (because people are statist, it should never be the government’s business how much you make) they growled at the statistical office – which then found significant increase. But 10% of this is not the same as 10% on a western salary. Anyway, the recent public servant wage increase was much publicized – yet in reality that increase turned out to be a net decrease. (Just like it did in healthcare).

“Thanks to the great wage increase, they raised 60 forints (20 euro cents – ed.). But they took away the perks such as food vouchers, so I make 10 thousand less since January. (EUR 30 – ed.)… My mortgage and bills cost 160 thousand a month (EUR 500 – ed.) and I haven’t eaten yet. I make 140 thousand for full time work, my partner makes 130 thousand, she buys the food, medicine. She spends 120 thousand a month. We both have second jobs. Shameful or not, we clean houses so we can afford not to work for two days a year and get a “holiday”. We don’t have high expectations, we would be happy to make 200 thousand each, net (EUR 625 – ed.). As long as this is the situation, we don’t want children because we couldn’t afford it.” 

There have probably been more politically charged comments under the post, but the moderators must have weeded them out. This is, after all, a touchy subject. I still found commenters accusing the post to be “paid propaganda by George Soros”. Just goes to show how explosive the topic of rock-bottom wages have become.

There was another dominant line of commenting: expat wages. Hungarians abroad shared their wages and maybe even announced how much they would return for. Comparing salaries is never a grateful subject, and somebody will always claim that it’s apples and oranges because the living costs are so much different – but that’s not true anymore. And Hungarian wages are also abysmally low compared to local housing costs.

“Nothing special, but 400 thousand net. I could make a living on that – I live alone with my daughter. But I chose to emigrate. This government doesn’t respect health care workers. I don’t accept bribes on principle. Here, abroad, my salary is way above 3000 euros. Makes one think. I would much rather fly back and forth and don’t give a shit!!! But it was bizarre when I had to bring in a blanket for my patients because the mattress pushed on his abdominal surgery scar… I used to make 189 thousand, net, with shift work and overtime…(EUR 600 – ed.)” 

She also had a few choice words for the government, but I will spare you that. And she wasn’t the only health care professional dreaming “big”. Another one identified herself as a future doctor, who dreams about making 1700 euros without overtime, but concedes that it is not possible for a doctor. Not without bribes, which are unofficially built into the system. PM Viktor Orbán even had the cheek to complain that official statistics don’t count doctors’ bribes towards a country’s healthcare spending because that would pull up Hungary from its current, abysmal healthcare spending as proportion of GDP. (And not because it is so efficient, before someone asks.)

There was someone who would work overtime “constantly” if only she could take home 625 euros a month. In 3-4 shifts. 625 euros is also a “dream” for others who wish to take out a mortgage, but no bank lends beneath that.

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