Not all places are easy to live in, and U.S. diplomats are expected to serve in places that are very difficult to live in. The State Department has a complicated formula that evaluates the level of difficulty, and gives diplomats a corresponding bonus. This bonus is called the “hardship differential,” and is shown as a percentage. You can see the complete list online here. Afghanistan has a 35% differential, for example. That’s easy to imagine: there aren’t many good hospitals, electricity is unreliable, and there aren’t many Starbuck’s. Iceland has a 5% differential, probably because it’s cold and remote there. Singapore has a 0% differential because it’s a wonderfully modern city with easy access to amenities.
Recently, the Department sent a team to Shenyang to review conditions here and update the differential. The result of their visit is that the hardship differential has been reduced from 30% to 25%. That’s good news in some sense, because it means that it is not as hard to live here. It’s bad news in another, because it means less money in my paycheck. Personally, I feel that although there are more grocery stores here that carry salsa, Internet access is probably worse than it was last year, the air is just as bad as it has been, and all of the other inconveniences are still bothersome.
I’m not complaining, I still get a hardship differential, but it doesn’t seem like daily life in Shenyang is 5% less hard than it was a year ago. This is also the second time that my pay has been cut since I entered the Foreign Service.
Still, it’s better than flipping burgers.