Would You Work for Less than You Think You Deserve?

I have a relative who just finished a temporary summer job and is back on the hunt for something a little more permanent. However, he insists that he “can’t work for less than $10 an hour.” He has an idea of how much his work time is worth, and he says he won’t commit to a job for less.

This attitude got me thinking about the way we sometimes look at work, and the jobs available, and make a determination about what we are willing to work for. I certainly have a dollar amount that I think I am “worth” when I engage in my freelance work.

happy janitor

But, while I don’t have to take jobs that I think are “beneath” my pay grade, I like to think that I would take such jobs — if I had to.

Do You Have to Get Something?

The operative phrase here is “if I had to.” The reason that my relative doesn’t feel like he “has to” get something just to have a source of income is because, even though he’s moving out of my basement at the first of the month, he feels like he can just fall back here. At the very least, he can move back in with his parents if he can’t find a job “worthy” of his expectations.

Yes, he’s expected to be doing something while he lives here (and at his parents’). He’s signed up with a temp agency. So, technically, he’s “doing work” even though he doesn’t have an actual job or other source of income. I may need to re-evaluate my definition of “doing something,” but that’s a post for another day.

The point is that if he had to get a job to survive, a minimum wage job might suddenly be acceptable. I would be willing to go back to working for peanuts as a freelance writer if I needed the money to feed my family. When you can’t make ends meet, what you are willing to accept, even if you think you “deserve” more, changes.

Are You Really Worth that Much?

On the other hand, you also have to ask yourself whether or not you are truly “worth” that much. Are you really going to find someone willing to pay you what you think you deserve? In my town, a job that pays $10 an hour is a rare thing for someone who doesn’t have a marketable skill, and has no training or education.

My relative thinks that because I can basically demand what I want to be paid, he should be able to as well. However, he has very narrow training that doesn’t easily translate to another field. He hasn’t held a steady job for more than a few months at a time for quite a while, and he has quit jobs in such a way that references are few and far between. And he has no technical certification, professional training, or degree. But he thinks that he “deserves” $10 an hour, and insists that he won’t work for less. I think he has an inflated idea of what he can command in this job market, considering what he brings to the table.

As you can tell, I’m having a very hard time wrapping my head around this one. I ask for what I want in my home business because I have years of experience under my belt. I also have a degree in journalism. I have experience and education. And references that will vouch for me. When I finished my four-year degree years ago I was happy to land a minimum wage job, and minimum wage at that time was less than $6 an hour. And my family of three managed to live on it by practicing a little frugality.

I know that $10 an hour isn’t a great deal of money. In some areas, it would be impossible to live on that. However, where I live, minimum wage is actually doable, if you are willing to make a few sacrifices in your lifestyle while you look for something better.

What do you think? Do you have a realistic idea of what you are “worth”? Would you work for less than that?

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.


By , on Aug 28, 2012
Miranda Marquit Miranda is a professional personal finance journalist. She is a contributor for several personal finance web sites. Her work has been mentioned in and linked to from, USA Today, The Huffington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and other publications. She also has her own personal finance blog: Planting Money Seeds.


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  1. Kathryn:

    My brother in law had the same belief and he didn’t even graduate from high school.

    Much depends on what a person’s “safety net” is…if someone has parents or other relatives or friends/love interest that will allow them to live rent free then they have the option of holding out for a higher rate of pay; however, if you are a single parent with no familial or child support, even with a enough credits for a Master’s degree, you take what you can get as an income is better than no income and keep looking for a better opportunity.

    Another factor is a person’s work ethic and desire to learn and be a part of society. Recently after being eliminated from a position and on unemployment for 11 months, I chose to take a job where I get less than what I could have gotten on unemployment for another six months or so because I like to work and it seemed like interesting and a chance to learn a lot, and fun place to work with a great boss, which I prize more over a fat paycheck. I would trade a bad day at work over sitting at home on unemployment any day of the week.

  2. Kris:

    I already do! I took my “day job” 10 years ago thinking it would be a stepping stone to bigger and better. Wrong.

    Seriously, it’s not just about what I’m worth, but what the market is for someone at my age/education/experience. Plus my lifestyle (which is really quite modest). So it’s not just my own expectation, but a combination of reality and need. Of course, I’m only worth what someone is willing to pay…

  3. cherie:

    I think you know part of the answer already, though you may be avoiding it.
    Relative feels this way because people are allowing him to do so. He doesn’t go hungry. He doesn’t worry about where he might stay. People are supporting him when he can’t support himself.

    I am like you, highly trained, experienced, and if it meant keeping my home, feeding my kids etc – I’d do any menial job for the best wage I could get, whatever it might be.

    Because I’m a grown up. Your relative hasn’t grown up yet because everyone still treats him like a child that needs to be cared for . . . and some people are comfortable staying like that!

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