The dream salary for Hungarians? Less than you think

A big, but completely non-representative sample says 1000 euros or less.

I found an interesting Facebook post in one of Hungary’s most populous Facebook groups, Overheard in Pest (Pesten Hallottam). The group is closed so I can’t link to the post. It has 432 thousand members – while the population of Budapest is just under 2 million, depending how you count it – so 432 thousand is a considerable number. This group is the place for 15-minutes-of-fame posts, for lost items, for humblebragging, and this is where people upload the funny message they found on banknotes.

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

Pesten hallottam fizu

“How much monthly salary would make you satisfied? What could you live on 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 infamously suggested that one could totally make a living on that. That’s 140 euros 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, they didn’t mean it seriously.

The remaining 320 comments are not a representative sample. They can live anywhere, have any family situation, they can be married, divorced, with or without children or cats. These things do matter for a statistical analysis, but not for our little sociological experiment.

Pesten hallottam dream salaries

The values are odd because they are HUF values given by commenters (i.e. 625 euros are 200.000 HUF, a nice round number in HUF) 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).

The higher they dreamed, the most brutally they got knocked down by fellow commenters.

In fact, the most striking feature of the comment section was that 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 commenters became really mean, they accused the unrealistic dreamers of being lazy, not having enough education, and that that is why they don’t make more. They suggested them humility, frugality, learning to count every forint and reining in their obscene demands. Above 1200 euros a month, for full time work.

It was also striking that the put-downers didn’t really care about nuances, they just came shout and to signal their own hard working and non-spending character. An obvious sign that they have been socialized that way and that they were quite bitter about it. Viciously blaming the low-earners for their low wages, even when someone is a low earner himself, is the surefire sign of an authoritarian underdog in action.

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. (Numbers in brackets and bold are Euro conversion)

“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, it is never enough. Then we want something even more unrealistic. We are only human, that’s why we can’t get enough…” 

That was about 670 euros a month. He makes less.

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.) a month, also paying for a 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 survival (i.e. we don’t starve). On top of this 145k my wife receives child benefits, so we make 200000 altogether a month (EUR 670 – ed.) . For the three of us. It is subjective what’s enough. For us, even 50 thousand more (EUR 160 – ed.) would make a huge difference. But 4-500 thousand a month would be enough.” 

Someone offered an insight into the reality of the much-publicized public servant wage increase by the generous government. The wages are very political these days and ever since the government was attacked for how low they are. Arguably, it is not the government’s job to set salaries, but both the people and the government are statist.  So when the statistical office announced yet another abysmally low wage level and below-growth and below-even-the-official-inflation wage increase, the government had had enough and they growled at the statistical office, telling them that they are wrong. Now statisticians are many things but not courageous rebels – or if some were they have left by now – so they quickly re-run their calculations and found a significant wage increase. And they keep finding it ever since, every month, to the point where people are making jokes about whether anyone had seem that double-digit miracle wage rise. But 10% increase of a 600 euro salary is not the same as 10% on a western salary, even if it was true. 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, my salary was increased by 60 forints (20 euro cents – ed.). But they took away the perks such as food vouchers, etc., so in the end 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, so 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 shared the amount for which they would return to work in Hungary. 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. Services may be cheaper, but products and utilities cost the same as in the west, and the housing costs have skyrocketed in the last few years. Hungarian wages are abysmally low compared to local housing costs, often lower than average rental prices in the same area.

“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. In Hungary I used to make 189 thousand a month, net, with shift work and overtime…(EUR 600 – ed.) 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!!! Back in Hungary I had to bring in a blanket for a patient because the mattress pushed on his abdominal surgery scar… ” 

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 conceded that it was 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 government’s healthcare spending is so efficient, before someone asks, but because Orbán chose to spend on his hobby horse, football instead. Next time you need an X-ray, try a stadium. They are better equipped than hospitals.)

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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