Can you imagine a job that comes with a free ocean-view house? Or one where they provide you with free on-site child care, a gym and free gourmet pick-me-up snacks delivered to your desk every day at 3 p.m.?
While some 14 million unemployed Americans are busy simply imagining a job -- any job -- some positions boast benefits that are over-the-top. Some are carryovers from the good old pre-recessionary days; others are with companies that retain that quaint philosophy of treating employees as a commodity worth nurturing. And still others are just jobs that traditionally have always had certain perks attached. For example: Free housing for the clergy. Get a parish and get a roof over your head.
Entering the ministry, for the most part, guarantees housing, or at least a housing subsidy as part of the employment package. And while no one is suggesting that clergymen need to live in squalor, if it's high-end ocean-view living you are seeking, the job you want is at St. Aidan's Episcopal Church in Malibu, where the minister gets to live in an architectural home atop an ocean-view bluff.
The church wisely doesn't publicize the home's whereabouts on its website, but let's just say it's a head-turner for most drivers along the Pacific Coast Highway. Located just a spit from the popular Zuma Beach, it stands like a modern beacon with lots of glass and architectural angles. A church spokesman would only confirm that it is owned by the parish and was unwilling to discuss what, if any, financial arrangements are made to lease it to the current minister. What we know: If you minister to this flock, you get some pretty fancy digs.
Not everyone is thrilled with the idea that clergymen get housing allowances that they don't have to pay taxes on. The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Madison, Wis. group that has been trying since 1978 to keep church and state separate, last fall filed a lawsuit challenging what is commonly called "the parsonage exception" or "housing allowance." The Foundation argued that this is a special benefit afforded only the clergy and it's worth billions of dollars in uncollected taxes that every other taxpayer -- atheists included -- has to then carry. The suit is winding its way through the federal courts and is expected to end up on the desk of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
College professors don't have it too bad in the roof-over-their-heads category either, although they are required to pay taxes on any subsidy they get. Pretty much every top university, and many that aren't so near the top, offers some kind of subsidized housing. The argument is that housing help is necessary to attract the best and brightest faculty, especially to universities located in pricey locales where academics could never otherwise afford to live, like Columbia University in New York City, or Stanford University, in Palo Alto, Calif.. There are always waiting lists for this housing and never enough units to meet demand, university officials say.
Pepperdine University, located in Malibu, says it likes to have its professors and staff living on campus because it makes them more accessible to students. Pepperdine offers mortgage assistance to about 350 people in 130 housing units -- most of them condos. A spokesman wouldn't give details, but it is believed that the unit must be sold back to the university when employment terminates. Pepperdine faculty and staff are also eligible to dine in the university's ocean-view cafeteria, where the fare is certainly above average for a college dining hall -- or maybe it's just that mac and cheese tastes better when it comes with a view of the Pacific.
Vanderbilt University has a staff discount program that includes everything from mortgages and real estate commissions to movie tickets. Basically, any merchant or service provider who agrees to give a discount to Vanderbilt staff gets listed on the website. I wasn't impressed until I saw that Vanderbilt University Hospital will deliver babies for faculty, staff and their spouses for whatever insurance pays (after the deductible is met). Cesarean sections are included.
Sandra Harbison, media relations of the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine, notes that as an employee there, she is able to take classes for free; spouses and children get 50% off tuition at any state university in Tennessee. This means her freshman son is getting a $1,300 per semester break on his tuition at Tennessee Tech University while she works at UT-Knoxville. University of Southern California staff also gets up to 100% free tuition for themselves and family, especially if they have a kid who can play defensive back.
For the past two years, Zach Brooks has been part of an AmeriCorps program known as the National Civilian Community Corps. It's a 10-month, team-based program for people 18-24 who travel around the country serving with different nonprofit organizations for 6-8 week stints. While the pay isn't very high, the housing and food costs are covered and there is transportation to get to and from the project site. There is also a $4,725 education award to pay off school loans or pay for college down the road.
Park rangers, which is actually a highly competitive job these days, get to live in beautiful natural surroundings in the national park they work in. Housing is provided in many cases, but you can expect the top locations -- Yosemite, Yellowstone -- to go to the more senior guys. How's a station in New Jersey's Sandy Hook sound, where you likely will spend your time separating necking teenagers and telling them how beer isn't allowed.
While about as far away from the wilderness as it comes, Susan Phillips Bari says that her days working in the Reagan White House from 1985 to 1988 as the associate director of Presidential Personnel were pretty spectacular. She loved getting the free tickets to the President's Box at the Kennedy Center. Admit it. Wouldn't you have liked to be part of Michelle Obama's entourage on her recent beach vacation to Spain? "Would you like more sun lotion on your back Mrs. O.?"
And of course there are some private sector companies that tout their special perks as a way of keeping morale high. Interestingly, it works. Talk to anyone in Bloomberg's New York newsroom and within three minutes, you'll hear how little carts every day deliver free snacks that include a full range of soft drinks, espressos, fresh fruit, vegetables, chips and cookies. On occasion, we're told, they pass out free sandwiches and soups as well. There is also an on-site medical facility with a full-time nurse, free flu shots during flu season and a prescription valet service so you can get your prescriptions filled while you are at work and spare the trip to the pharmacy.
Only the cynical would suggest that Bloomberg does this to help keep employees chained to their desks, eliminating reasons for them to leave on a break. Prisoners? Perhaps, but happy prisoners. Bloomberg also provides free bike storage if you pedal to work and gives you a cash incentive for bike upkeep. Bloomberg's website says it has a child care backup system. A company spokesman did not return calls or messages; perhaps he was watching the kids.
Socially progressive ice cream makers, Ben & Jerry's, still throw in some corporate perks in keeping with its philosophy even though the founders sold the company a decade ago. It offers 40 hours of paid time off for community work -- music to the ears of working moms who want to volunteer in their kids' classrooms -- plus three free pints of ice cream a day and free health club membership to offset the effects of those pints on your waistline. It also allows you to bring your dogs to work, your kids to work, and work from home. The company will even give you $1,000 toward the purchase of a hybrid car; offers the sleepy a nap room for "re-energizing," and a Milky Way room for nursing mothers.
Perks, apparently, don't even have to be really big for employees to feel good about them. Tyronne Morris, the FedEx driver whose route is Topanga, Calif., is coming up on his 10th anniversary with the company. His reward: a powerful telescope he's had his eye on for some while. He had his choice of gifts from a catalog the company issues for each milestone anniversary. FedEx also rewards drivers if a delivery customer sends a letter commending them. (Dear FedEx: Tyronne is the greatest. He never bottoms out the truck on my steep driveway or complains when the dogs get loose. And he's never left a package in front of the sprinkler. Consider this your letter.)
Jobs with extra perks -- like houses, paid college tuitions and baby delivery