You made an assumption that if you buy a camera that is worth $x, you must earn back that amount or more. Why should that be the case? Remember, students could be interested in earning $1 per click as pocket money. Even if they don't accept the job, they won't earn anything from their hobby anyway. So why not make a bit extra?
It's all relative. $1 per click may be considered easy money to some. But to others, especially to full-time pros, it's downright insult.
Like I said, things have changed. Even students can take beautiful pictures with their DSLRs that rival the pros. Just look at the photo competitions. If you put pros vs non-pros, ie those who don't earn a living from photography, can you argue the pros will surely win? Of course not.
So it's a lot tougher for those who want to earn a living from photography now. That's how it has evolved. We have to accept the challenges are far greater than before. And there will be people who can take very good pictures. And those who will accept your so-called "low-paying" assignments. I know it's sad. It cheapens photography as a profession sometimes. But that's just how it is.