Is It Worth Applying to Minimum Wage Jobs if They Don’t Make Ends Meet?

I worked my way up from minimum wage in office positions to my last position at $12.50 an hour.  With the cost of living rising, I still had to cut and cut and cut and take a freelance gig to help pay bills and try to have a life.

After a layoff, of course I realize that starting a new job means I’ll probably have to take a pay cut.  I saw a posting today for a position in one of the local health care systems, and upon logging in and clicking on it, discovered it pays a base salary of $7.60 an hour.

So basically, with taxes removed, if I applied for and got this job and was unsuccessful in negotiating my more than ten years of experience into a higher starting wage, I would be making only a tiny bit more than I am on unemployment.  And for a year or possibly more following my being hired, I would suffer commensurately.

Workers are constantly told to upgrade skills, get an education and on average, college graduates are better employed than those without a degree.   Nowadays, that is only true if the degree is specific to the position and it’s technical.  Lately, is that even the case anymore?

In this economy, companies are slashing jobs right and left.  There is no guarantee that a college education will guarantee you won’t be the baby thrown out with the proverbial bathwater.

And if you have one, most employers won’t take a chance on you for a minimum wage position, because they (most often rightly) assume that you’ll bail as soon as something better comes along.

It takes time to gain experience and time to go to school and earn a degree, and woe to you if it’s not the “right” degree.


I agree that a starting office position in a health care facility should not earn as much as a highly trained surgeon.  But it seems counterproductive to pay so little that a person would have to take several jobs just to have the basics of life:  decent shelter, adequate food and some form of health care, let alone be able to save anything.

Working two jobs means I can’t devote my best energy to either of them.  Freelance writing isn’t a job to me (yet), because I love to write and would do it anyway.  But not getting paid for writing a novel (yet) means I can’t fill two roles AND write.  Maybe you can; I can’t.

So is it worth applying?  It may be, if this job could be a springboard to a better one, and it’s possible to negotiate a higher starting salary.  But with $7.60 an hour and a 20- to 30-minute commute (at rush hour) halfway across town, the gains may not be worth the cost.

Ever face this dilemma? What did you do about it?  If you have any ideas I’d love to hear them.


8 thoughts on “Is It Worth Applying to Minimum Wage Jobs if They Don’t Make Ends Meet?

  1. Yes, I have been in this position. Once, I was working at a temporary job as an admin at a company (not through an agency), and they offered me the job permanently. The pay was lower than my unemployment payment, so I turned them down.

    These days, people often talk about the “working poor”. When good jobs disappear, these low paying jobs are all that are left, and as you said, people need to have 2 or more just to make ends meet. And frequently, there are no benefits with them.

    It’s a very tough spot to be in. I’m considerably older now, but not old enough to retire, and I have certain physical issues. Not enough to be classified as disabled, but they do limit the kind of jobs I could get.

    There are no easy answers.

    • It certainly is tough. Wages have not risen but the price of everything has. I live in an area that is typically less expensive than other parts of the country (US). However, there are clerical positions–mostly receptionists–that still start at minimum wage, even if you have a lot of experience. If I wanted to make so little, I would have stayed in food service!

  2. I would be willing to take a serious pay cut (from the job where I was laid off a few years ago) if I knew there were the possibility of working my way back up. But working for minimum wage would make no sense for me, at least not while my husband is working. We’d have to buy another car (he works from home and when he needs to travel, which he does frequently, I take him to the airport), we’d have to either spend all our free time cleaning and cooking or hire help, I would have to buy work clothes, as I suspect gym pants are still too casual even for business casual workplaces, and the taxes would take 1/3 of what I would make.

    I volunteer as a poll worker. The city pays $100 a day, which comes out to less than minimum wage. I tell them not to pay me at all, because after taxes, including self-employment taxes, I would get about $3.30 an hour. I’d rather work for free.

    • I hear you. I don’t realistically believe I can find a job that pays what I was getting. But if there is not only the possibility of a raise but eventually moving away from doing the same exact thing, I would go for it.

      The problem with many employers in my area is that they are still stuck on the “Oh this is a cheaper place to live than the rest of the country, blah blah blah.” That may be true compared to say, New York City or Los Angeles, but with the recession, prices have gone up. And wages haven’t. Look at gas, for example. Food too. I found I could go to Save-A-Lot and get milk for under $3 a gallon and I thought I had died and gone to heaven.

      When unemployment pays MORE take-home than a job, and I don’t even have to leave the damn house, something is seriously out of whack.

  3. I have been in that spot perpetually it seems. Almost have a doctorate, 8 years of college, going back for different degree so I can get a job. Yes, I’m highly educated and will probably move on to something better when it comes available, but wouldn’t everyone else? The mental oyster that is doing the hiring would do the same thing right? Even a high school drop out will leave 7.25 an hour for 12 and hour! Worked as a disposable employee for $8/hour at several places before I burn out. Just quit a $8/hour job that required a 45 min drive one-way that when I was hired to do office work and ended up doing heavy lifting/manual labor under very unsafe conditions. After expenses and time I calculated I only made $2.85 an hour. There are alot of websites and folks claiming that you can live off min wage, thats because they haven’t tried it. Even if you work two full time jobs for min wage and barely get by paycheck to paycheck, one emergency, car break down, illness, speeding ticket, etc. will sink you since you do not have the resources in the first place. Its barely keeping your head above water when the smallest wave will drown you. As you mentioned, why work that hard for so little when the job is likely one in which you are treated sub-human by the public. Frustration and depression are hard to avoid. I am very fortunate at the present time to be able to go back to school for skills that I hopefully will be able to use. Most people do not even have that option. Good luck America.

    • Cullen–Exactly. Eight years ago before the recession, I could at least make ends meet on $8 an hour. Now it won’t even do that. I always recommend Barbara Ehrenreich’s book “Nickeled and Dimed: On Not Getting By in America” to those people that don’t get it. It’s about how she went undercover to see if a minimum wage job would get her by. It did not. Good luck with school. I hope that works out very well for you. 🙂

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