$100,000 is around £63,000 at present rates, so US orchestral musicians are indeed better paid
Not really, as the cost of food, housing, transport and medical care (they don't have a NHS!) is greater in the USA than in the UK.
Speaking as one of the token Americans on the forum here, I sort of feel honor-bound to weigh in with what few insights that I can muster, but I confess that I don't know all the vagaries and details about how US orchestra musician salaries vary. However, as a first general impression, I can most definitely assure you that the Philadelphia Orchestra salaries that you all see from the article are by no means typical of a US orchestra salary, not at all. Those 6-figure average salaries are for the old "Big 5" group (Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, New York and Philadelphia), plus the orchestras of San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington DC (the National Symphony Orchestra), Minneapolis/St. Paul (The Minnesota Orchestra), and Pittsburgh, as noted in this blog post by Nancy Malitz:
Originally Posted by Dave2002
The top salaries are for the top US orchestras, such as the US orchestras that are mostly like to tour overseas and possibly also appear at The Proms (witness Pittsburgh & Philadelphia this past season). In terms of more "regional" US orchestras, which of course are the majority on this side of the pond, the reality is closer to the Colorado Symphony, which is in its own major financial pickle. This Denver Post article, for example, notes the average salary in Colorado as $41,000:
If you want to get a not-too-distant-past example of a low salary for a US orchestra, this report gives a value of $18,000 for a Charleston Symphony musician:
I suppose that if I had to go on gut instinct, you could classify according to Dave2002's criteria as follows:
Charleston = low
Colorado = mid (to me, lower end of mid)
Philadelphia = high
My own gut feeling is that I'd consider anything above $75K to be "high", but that is not a scientific evaluation at all. Likewise, my understanding is that the pay scale in the UK is pretty low, regardless of relative comparison to any other country. As well, the phenomenon of self-governing orchestras is more prevalent in the UK (or at least in London) compared to the US, which is extremely rare, if not non-existent.
Plus, as waldhorn alludes to, we in the US don't believe much in the social contract, thanks to 50+ years of right-wing propagandizing against even the concept of national health care, as witness currently the extreme right-wing Republicans known as the Tea Party (think the BNP, only worse) trying to dismantle Social Security and Medicare, but I digress. Benefits like health care come from the individual employers and what deals they can get from the insurance companies, without something the NHS here to provide them.
Part of the reason that the top tier orchestras have gotten the relatively high salaries that they have now has been as protection from the "bad old days" when conductors like Szell and Reiner could dismiss a musician on the spot simply because they didn't like how some back-desk violinist wore his tie or had 5 o'clock shadow at the wrong time of day. The Philadelphia Orchestra wasn't a full-time ensemble, 52-week contracted orchestra until 1966, if I read it correctly, well into the Ormandy era and after the time when Stokowski put the Fabulous Philadelphians on the international map.
If you want to contrast how the two PA orchestras have been handling the economic malaise, you can contrast the "nuclear option" that the Philadelphia Orchestra management (again, not the musicians) exercised with the bankruptcy declaration with the voluntary pay cut that the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra musicians took, along with Manfred Honeck soon after:
Granted, neither Honeck nor the musicians are hurting even with the giveback, but at least they made the gesture in advance.
Anyway, this is kind of a ramble and a far from comprehensive look at the situation here, to be sure.
I see Simon is coming out with his ignorant self opinionated right wing BNP rubbish again.
Another recent article from Peter Dobrin at the Inquirer on the Philadelphia Orchestra labor settlement: