Post-docs are the weird, easily forgotten positions in academia, neither fish nor fowl. They’re something more than a student — they’ve got Ph.D.s! — but definitely far less than faculty. On the plus side, it’s often the one position where you get to do nothing but research, research, research…but on the negative side, you’ve got minimal official status within your institution, have no say in governance or administration, and are at the mercy of your academic overlords. It’s also a low-paying position (although it has gotten somewhat better and more realistic since my post-doctoral days, when it was a poverty-level salary), with budgets basically frozen for the last few years. Remember, post-docs are highly trained professionals with degrees and publications and skills, and they are still treated like apprentices as far as the administration goes.
The good news is that Obama has proposed a small, 6% increase in the standard NIH post-doctoral stipend — not everyone is paid by NIH, of course, but it does provide a benchmark for what the typical post-doc salary should be.
Don’t start celebrating just yet, though. This is only the proposal, and it needs to be approved by congress, which generally treats that book-learnin’ infrastructure of the country as something expendable, and much less important than subsidizing corn, which has the virtue of being non-uppity and usually voting Republican. What you need to do right now is write to your representative and tell them that it sure would be nice if scientists could be paid a living wage commensurate with the investment in their education. Support your local post-docs, and especially if you are your local post-doc, write in!