I don’t want a minimum wage job

A reader writes:

I’m job-searching, and many people have suggested I get a minimum wage job. Some have gone as far as to call me lazy, say I have a bad attitude, etc., because I don’t want to work for minimum wage. I know that, aside from one, most who have suggested it mean well. I know the benefits of working a minimum wage job (any pay is better than nothing, it keeps me busy, etc.).

I’m kind of tired of feeling guilty about it. I do NOT think I am better than anyone, I am not arrogant, and I don’t think I’m entitled to anything. I don’t look down on people who work minimum wage either. I respect people who can make an honest living. With that said, the reasons I don’t want to are:

– I want a “real” job. And by “real” job, I mean one where I have room to advance, learn new skills, and just be a professional.

– I have worked minimum wage/low skill jobs, and it is difficult to break out of the pattern. You work full-time, and you get no time to go on interviews, or you have to take time off and lose money becasue you’re being paid by the hour. I don’t want to be treated badly at my job (and most of them were like that).

– I want financial security for myself and independence, and I won’t get it if I can’t pay the rent, simple as that. A one-bedroom apartment in a really crappy neighborhood costs $800. Minimum wage brings, at most, $1160. That’s about 70% of your income just for rent.

– And I haven’t admitted this to anyone, but I have applied to a couple of minimum-wage places. And I was never called back. You have no idea what this has done to my self esteem, that I’m not good enough to work in a bakery.

I would prefer to volunteer or even do an unpaid internship than work retail or food service. I don’t know if my reasons are valid or if anyone feels the same way I do. I’m just tired of feeling guilty about it.

Well, this really comes down to your own particular set of circumstances: Are you in a financial position to wait a while until the right job comes along, or do you need money coming in fairly soon, regardless of the source? If you’re financially equipped to wait, there’s no reason that you can’t or shouldn’t. It’s not like there’s a moral requirement to be working every day if you don’t need to.

But you also need to be realistic about your situation. If you’re financially struggling, or just barely getting by with no buffer for emergencies, or not well qualified for other jobs, you do need to have a plan for doing something about that. That plan may or may not involve minimum wage jobs, but the key is to be realistic:  Do you know how you’re going to support yourself for, say, the next year? If you don’t really know, then yes, a minimum wage job might need to be part of your plan for meeting your financial needs.

On the other hand, if you have reason to be confident that a better-paying job is imminent, and you can support yourself in the meantime, there’s no reason you need to take a minimum wage job just because people are telling you to. But, obviously, you need to be realistic about whether it’s truly imminent. You should base that sense on how much interest you’re getting from the employers you want, how far you’re getting in their hiring processes, etc. You absolutely can’t base this on wishful thinking or ideas about whether you “should” be able to get a better job; it needs to be based on the reality of what’s happening.

One other important point:  If your plan for supporting yourself involves other people helping you (parents, spouse, roommates, etc.), and they are pushing you to take a low-paying job, that means that they think you should be pitching in more. If that’s the case, you need to have a more direct conversation with them about your arrangement, your side of it, their expectations, etc. It’s one thing to decide that you’re not going to take a minimum-wage job when you’re covering all your own expenses; it’s very different when someone is helping you, and they’d like you to be contributing more.

Basically, this is what it comes down to:  You need to have a way to pay for all the costs of living — food, shelter, clothing, emergency savings, and whatever else you want in life. It needs to be a reasonably long-term plan, something that covers you for more than just the next few months. And it needs to be based in reality, not on wishful thinking. As long as your plan meets those criteria, then it’s really no one else’s business what the specifics of your plan are. If you can afford to not work while you wait for the right job, or to volunteer or do unpaid internships to make yourself a more marketable candidate in the long run, then great. Do that, and ignore people who think they know better than you do.

But if your plan doesn’t meet those criteria — if you have no idea how you’ll pay your bills in two months or what you’ll do if your car breaks down tomorrow, or if it’s based on getting a good job that so far no one has shown much interest in hiring you for — then you need a new plan. At that point, it’s not really about what you want (a job where you can advance, higher pay, time off, etc.); it’s about what you need. And needs, by definition, trump wants.

And in that case, it’s not unreasonable to consider a lower-wage job as part of your plan for meeting your needs. Money is money, after all, and if you need it, there’s no point in snubbing a perfectly good source of it.

What do other people think?

P.S. Whoops, one more thing — about that feeling that you’re “not good enough to work in a bakery” because they didn’t call you back. That’s not the right way to look at this. Most jobs have multiple applicants for one slot. When one person gets hired to fill that one slot, that doesn’t mean that everyone else who applied “wasn’t good enough.” It means that the employer had one slot, and they’re only hiring one person for it, so as a result, many qualified people will be rejected; that’s the case for every job opening. You can’t take it personally or as a reflection on you. It has nothing to do with you — it’s just math.

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