With an average salary of $53,410 per year, interpreters and translators earn less money than other social services professionals, such as clinical social workers ($51,460), middle school teachers ($56,280) and school psychologists ($72,220). However, the average salary of interpreters and translators is higher than that of exterminators ($32,190) and garbage collectors ($35,230).
Source: Money.usnews.com. Check out median hourly wage too. Buried somewhere in the archives of this blog is a post with more such data, including how translators in Western Europe make far less than the average for their education level, perhaps another referencing how translators earn less and less despite how demand for their work keeps increasing, and more. (Unless I forgot to write them. That sometimes happens.)
See, translators are already being impoverished as a result of the constant pressure on rates and a couple of other factors, such as the specific structure of our sector, and the way so many jobs get reverse-auctioned off by dominant buyers (even despite suppliers being in high demand, despite the good ones). This is what happens when a whole group of people massively gives in to nibbling demands and sometimes outright frog's leap bluff offers, which seemingly succeed through sheer insolence.
Whatever may seem okay right now — to survive as a graduate, to survive a job change, to do whatever — will it suffice to feed and clothe a family, send the children to college, keep some savings in the bank, do all sorts of things middle-class people are supposed to be able to do?
If you take $0.04 a word, you'll need to translate 1,335,250 words to make $53,410 p.a. That means 121,386 words a month if we take one month off due to holidays and sick leave (21-23 business days on both accounts is actually not that much). Supposing you don't work on weekends, let's divide this figure by 22 (the number of business days in a month). This results in 5518 words per day. How do you feel about translating that, every day? Supposing you work traditional 8-hour days, this also means 690 words an hour, consistently over 8 hours. A figure quite unrealistic in the case of most translators.
Things get better at six cents, but obviously still firmly in the unspectacular range as you can guess by now.
Bottom line: do some maths.
Now regarding the reassurance I promised you. I want to be crystal clear on one thing: While it's admirable to be the best at what you do, or try to get there, and always strive to improve, you still shouldn't need to be the best-in-class sort of overachiever only in order to hope for reasonable, fair, sustainable wage commensurate with your education, experience and the value of your work.
Just because silver is not gold and gold is not platinum it doesn't stop being valuable and commanding a good price. On the other hand, if you really are there, you shouldn't have to struggle in the six-cent pool. Not six, not twelve, not thirty. Gold and platinum aren't priced in pennies.
A lot will be said about how market value does not coincide with emotions and feelings, and how market value should supposedly guide all things. Also about how translation needs to bring money on the table in order to justify serious money being paid for it.
The thing is, though, that translators are not actually being paid the real market value of their work, and that translation does bring money to translation buyers and users, and to resellers and intermediaries, it's only that at this day and age people don't see it fit to attribute that value to the translator's effort — for example because some other translator could produce the same value — or at least reward the translation financially in due proportion, because translation is supposedly an inherently low-value task. Both of which are silly propositions.
In truth interchangeability applies to everyone in business: plumbers, car mechanics, lawyers, accountants, marketers, consultants, executives, MBAs and everyone else, including the same people who use interchangeability as an argument to pay you peanuts. Plus, interchangeability does not cancel the value of your work, anyway, precisely because someone else would still have to do it.
Neither is a client or intermediary's perception of translation as a low-value sort of thing the sort of solid economic justification that they would demand of you (figuratively) in order to justify your pay.
The perception of translation deserving any more that pittance pay regardless of the whatever value it brings — that is something which goes against healthy principles of economy and even logic. That is a nonsense wish grounded in emotions rather than facts or principles.
The only thing about it which is consistent with the laws of economy is that in a buyer-controlled market buyers will be able to pull off that sort thing despite the irrationality of it. And especially in a market like the modern translation market, where the roles are reversed and translators are effectively buying their jobs rather than selling their services.
Not reassuring much, perhaps, but let's get the pseudoeconomic nonsense out of the way and be clear on who's trying to defy the laws of physics (economy, but anyway).
And just for the record, just in case, if someone claims that piecemeal work is to far removed from the final product or service to be priced in direct reference to it, then in such a case your costs of living, remuneration consistent with your education and the level of your contribution to the final product or service — those should all serve as referene in determining your pay, as long as the business sustains itself and brings profit. Not however little someone thinks he should be able to pay you. That's more like laws of the jungle than healthy laws of economy.
(And this even before we consider the damage done by low rates to the quality of translation and the resulting damage to clients, and all the promises made and broken on which the clients relied in paying for the service, which prevent supply-demand mechanics from working properly due to the misinformation.)