Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Reader Asks: Why Am I Working For Minimum Wages?

In response to a post about secret debt, a reader called Minimum Wage asked:

I am a middle-aged white male with a liberal arts degree and a minimum wage job. I have no 401(k), IRA, or other investment accounts. Why do I earn less?

I offered a quick answer:

Here are a few reasons IMHO why some of us (including me) have earned less than we should: self-sabotage (been there, done that), wrong profession (ditto) and poor timing.

I ended with a promise to provide a longer, thoughtful response. Here is the followup.

During a conversation with Mikelann R. Valterra, (pictured below), author of Why Women Earn Less , we discussed reasons why men and women earn less. It's not a gender issue.

Here's are her tips based on our phone interview:

1. Study your work history. Is your low wage job a one-time event or an embedded part of your track history? If you're just stuck in a short-term rut because of a one-time special situation, don't worry. Everyone has low-lights in a career.

But if your resume is crowded with dead-end jobs, there is a bigger problem. "This is about a pattern," Mikelann said during our chat. "Why have you chosen to stay in a profession where you can't make money?"

2. Calculate your living costs: "Be clear about what you need to make," she said. "Once you are clear about that, you are totally in a different place." Be mindful about your money and spending. When we are unclear about how much we really spend and waste, we are usually unclear about the salary we need to earn.

3. Take inventory of your talents and skills. "Look at your skills and ask: is there something I can do to make the money I need?" For example, if your annual expenses/vacation plans, goals/savings targets require an annual salary of $50,000, put together a list of jobs or opportunities in that income bracket, Mikelann told me when we chatted by phone last night.

4. Read books on wages and underearnings. Beyond her own text, she recommends: Earn What You Deserve: How to Stop Underearning & Start Thriving (Mass Market Paperback) by Jerrold Mundis, a classic text written in 1995.

5. Be honest: We should ask ourselves these questions: Where have you undersold yourself? Do you ask for raises? Do you sabotage yourself during interviews or salary negotiations?

Special Thanks to Mikelann R. Valterra for taking the time to chat with me.

1 comment:

minimum wage said...

I just found this post while searching for "underearning" posts, and the title gave me a start. (heh)

I was thinking, who asked that? I know *I* didn't ask that question.

Okay, upon reading the thing, I realized that I did indeed ask what was posted, but I didn't mean it in quite the context suggested by the title.

I was replying, with a bit of a wiseguy component, to "Why Women Earn Less" - I'm not a woman, so why do I earn less?

But since I have an "embedded" low-wage track record, I'm not sure how a person would break out of it after 30 years. It's not as if employers are eager to hire such people. If I were younger, sure...but at my age, doubtful.

There is a major disconnect between my skills and my experience, so my skills don't mean much to employers.