Charleston carriage tour guide Myron Pstrak's 15 minutes of fame today is pegged to the fact that in this slumping economy, he made only $7,200 last year showing tourists around downtown.
But what's not addressed in Parade magazine's annual “What People Earn” issue is the combined $120,000 he earns in salary and retirement from his “real” job working as a lab technician at the Medical University of South Carolina.
Also not detailed is the several thousand dollars he additionally picks up — along with some nice travel benefits — working on the cruise ship side of online travel site Expedia's vacation packages.
Pstrak, 58, said he works three jobs with one goal in mind: leaving the long days here behind for good so that he can retire permanently as an “ex-pat,” moving south to the mountains of central Mexico where the weather is springlike year round.
“I do this for the fun of it,” Pstrak said of his carriage gig, saying he's not anywhere close to the bad shape implied by the $7,200 figure.
Pstrak's story is part of the then-and-now theme of the report. In 2002, he was featured in the weekly for the $17,000 figure he made as a tour guide at the time.
While he still loves giving tours and talking with people, his carriage tour take-home dropped by more than half — not because of the economy but because he opted to cut back on hours at Palmetto Carriage, where the flow of tourists remains steady.
Pstrak's financial security might be among the exceptions in Charleston. Experts who follow financial trends say the Lowcountry salary picture is much in the same shape as the rest of the country, where as long as unemployment remains high, employers keep salaries stagnant.
“As long as that's the case, I don't imagine we'll have any sharp upswing in wages for probably another year or two,” said Steve Slifer, former chief U.S. economist for Lehman Brothers in New York.
At Lehman, Slifer directed the firm's U.S. economics group and was responsible for forecasts and analysis of the U.S. He has since moved to the Charleston area and writes about the economy at www.numbernomics.com.
A flooded workforce with too few jobs in the offering means “employers are not inclined to give a big increase in wages,” he added.
Recent unemployment numbers put South Carolina's rate at 9.1 percent, while nationally the figure is a bit better, at about 8.2 percent.
Pstrak, meanwhile, said that being featured in Parade is nice, but his focus remains on getting to Mexico.
And, he said, his load of three jobs is designed to get him comfortably situated south of the border when the time is right.
“I want to move down there and put my feet up,” he said. “And never work again.”