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Nickled & Dimed: Why Aren't Qualified Millennials Making the Pay They Deserve? And, How to Change That

Updated on February 25, 2016
Dominique Smith profile image

D. A. Smith gave up on writing back in 2012. But she's back. If you like what you read here, check out her blog The Life Major.

A face only a mother could love.
A face only a mother could love. | Source

Why Are We Still Dealing with This Issue?

My mother and I spend a lot of time together watching TV on the weekends. A few months ago, we watched an old 70's TV show called All in the Family. The main character of the show, Archie Bunker, was at the time a WWII vet looking for a job in order to make extra money for his family. He was an older, Caucasian male, who had some issues with racial bias and gender issues (that'll be another post).

Anyway, he applied for a job at a particularlly low level entry position. He gave his interview, did a poor and hilarious job, and he was still hired by the manager, despise the fact. When, he asked why the other guy who went to college didn't get the job, the hiring manager stated that the other guy was overqualified, and they pretty much needed a moron to do the job.

The point of describing that episode means that in the 70's, the corporate world still had issues with over-qualification and not wanting to pay a salary that an individual deserved whether old or young. Sounds a lot similar to the situation Millennials are going through, and lets just it's getting old, but will probably never go away.

But, we're in the latter half of a new decade, millennials are taking over the job sphere, and are one of the fastest growing contributors to the economy. The economy took a down turn while many of the budding millennials were still in middle school or just graduated from high school. They entered the world with the idea that hard work, intelligence, and a career path in mind would lead them to their ultimate goal of getting proper housing and a great paying job.

As of today, I'll use my example and that of a few strangers I've met and talked to, roughly between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five, to explain why the economy for millennials is still an issue and we're all just hardworking citizens trying to make it in the world.

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Issue 1: The Harder You Work the Less You Make

My mother received her GED at the age of sixteen. She dropped out of high school because my grandmother was old, receiving social security, and unable to work any longer because of age discrimination. My mother worked two sometimes three jobs and was the sole provider in her household. She eventually became an employee at a popular hardware store and moved up from cashier to head cashier. She made about $21 dollars an hour, had stocks in the company, received monetary rewards, and was once again the sole provider in our household, my father was disabled.

My aunt in comparison attended University, received two degrees, and she moved to New York City for a career in marketing, around the same time my mom was working and making $21 dollars an hour, she made much less. Now, one could say well the locations and price of living comes into play. My mother lived in the state of Florida, price of living is fairly lower down south than up north, especially New York City. Even though both women did a tremendous amount of work, my mother had to work three to four jobs, just to make it to her $21 per hour standard of living and my aunt received two degrees and still barely scraped by.

That was back in the 90's. Today, it's the same situation. I attended college while in high school, but I had a part time job at a prestigious company. I also made time to volunteer, tutor a variety of students, and deal with my family's poor economic situation. My social life was and still is non-existent. Three years later, the only thing that's changed is that I couldn't afford to attend college, so I chose to stay with my job at the company. I received training that adults in their later years would have trouble obtaining. I moved from pushing pencils to speaking with clients. I received praises from complete strangers who didn't know me, but knew the company that I worked for. I thought I was on top of the world. And, then, I asked for a raise.

I did get a raise. It bumped my salary up five hundred dollars. I'm still below the minimum threshold of my position. I didn't argue with my supervisor. I didn't even complain when my mother got upset. I let it go. I learned an important lesson, I'm twenty-one-years-old, this isn't college, I'm not getting a gold star for working hard, I'm just doing my job.

But, here's the problem: I didn't just do my job. I trained new hires that got paid substantial amounts more than me, I trained individuals who worked in the industry for decades, while I was only in the job a couple of years, I took on tasks, that should've been way over my head, but succeeded with flying colors. I kissed a lot of babies and shook a lot of hands just to say the least. Am I entitled to a raise? Hell no. Do I feel like my raise should have been more? Only if I earned it and in all fairness, yes. Am I going to lick my wounds? Definitely.

I sobbed really badly when the realization that my job was being unfair, I felt myself withering into self-loathing. I felt sick before work. I felt sick after work because I knew I had to go back in the morning. I stayed to myself. I stopped eating lunch. I stopped talking to my favorite co-workers. I quit greeting my boss. I entered really bad depression and I considered suicide. Why would something as stupid as receiving a low raise drag me to such a depth? I talked to my mom after a rough day at work, I'd just cried the night before coming in and she was afraid I might jump off a bridge or something. She called one of her friends at the company and she happened to be one of the managers and she pulled me into her office, sat me down, and I bawled like a baby, until I couldn't get the words out.

It came down to this. For three long years, since taking the job two days after graduating from college, I've been expecting giant leaps and bounds with my pay. I thought I did everything right, but I learned that day (and still learning), that it's not going to work like that. No matter how hard I worked, I still make as much as an intern in high school.

Now, here's how I should've fixed the situation: Talk to my supervisor, not complain, but sit down and talk to the supervisor. Ask the individual what more can I do? What changes can I make or what haven't I done? I understand that raises weren't giving to everyone, but how can I get a salary bump? Another way I could've handled it, is was just search for another job, that's my next point.

Issue 2: Look for a New Job

Before graduating high school, I made the decision not to pursue further college. I wanted to major in English. My mother was extremely against me becoming an English major because of fear that I will not make money as a writer, I will not succeed creating novels, and to a degree, she was write. I don't like writing and sharing my work with other people. I treated it as a hobby, and every time I tried to get serious with writing, she'd shoot me down with stories about failed writers (who later succeeded in life), I digress.

The point of this section is to reflect what happened to me above. I sobbed, I pouted, I wasted time and should've looked for a new job. I'm still learning, Again, just graduated high school less than three years ago, everyone knows the pre-frontal cortex isn't fully developed until at least twenty-five.

I prepared my resume. Started sending it out, made cold calls, emailed and reached out to other employers. I thought the job offers would start rolling in. Ha, I crack myself up. I still don't have a new job. So, I should be looking for a bridge or something, right? No, my mom's friend/a manager at my company took me to the beach and out for dinner with her daughter. Her daughter complained about work, first job. She's also a high school student attending college, she works at a famous coffee chain. I hope she never reads this article.

She told me about her week at work, an old woman spilled her blueberries on the floor and asked for more blueberries while the young woman was making eleven drinks. She's breaking her back dragging garbage bags out of the store the same size as her every hour on the hour, she washes dishes, she serves drinks, works the cash register, and she probably makes chump change. My manager's daughter made me laugh and I started to feel bad, I have an office job, I make more than her. Maybe, it's not so bad.

My manager took us out to eat after we left the beach. We headed to a famous restaurant that was features on Shark Tank. The place was okay, not much for atmosphere, it was orange, very orange, but the food was freaking amazing, and it's just toast with cheese in the middle of it. We're sitting there and the server walks up to my manager, and my manager says:

"I just saw you here the other day. Do you live here?"

The woman was about my age, she giggled. "No, but I do work forty-seven hours."

I was like, oh crap, I'm only required to work forty hours. I slump in my seat.

My manager says, "What! That's crazy."

The server laughs again and says. "It's life. It just sucks, I don't even make enough to buy my own place. How's your food everyone? Enjoying it?"

I felt like a total jerk at that moment. She's smiling, she's busting tables, she's sweeping. I feel small and insignificant, all I do is sit at a desk. But, I start to think about it. Three intelligent women, three wonderful people that are hard working, all under the age of twenty-four, being paid nothing, unable to live off of what they receive, and yet we're stuck in our situations.

I thought about everything I learned that day and looked at my life and sighed.

The Takeaway: Look for a new job, but don't expect anything fancy. It takes time, and it's best just to keep the current job while looking for another job, because everyone's having a tough time, even though the economy is looking up, allegedly.

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Issue 3: It's Probably Just You and Not the Job

I am the human representation of an ostrich. I am not proud to admit that I dig my head into sand when the going gets tough. My brother got upset with me towards the end of last year. I let my emotions get the best of me and I wrote a letter to my superiors that I thought was brilliant (it was), but it got tossed aside.

My brother said along the lines, "It took you forever to finally stand up for yourself. I was waiting for this to happen."

Okay, so, maybe my tactic of hiding in sand until the danger is gone doesn't work. Now, that I look back at it, it didn't work in high school when I wanted to be an English major, it didn't work in my career when I should've negotiated a better raise at the start of my job, and it didn't help me when I had this dream to write and I decided not to start writing until the beginning of this year. The point is I hide, and I think a lot of people my age hide. And, if they don't hide, I wish I had their tenacity.

I never set boundaries. I allowed work to be piled on top of me. I expected my supervisors to be psychic and to see that I can't reply to an email ASAP when I'm taking out a fire on the other side of the building. I didn't speak up when my friend was fired and I was told to train her replacement, while doing her job, on top of my job. I didn't stand up for myself. I hid.

I still hide and I feel like a horrible person.

My emotions described earlier, that sense of depression that's so strong I wanted to end it all, was because I suppressed everything. I was thinking about ending my life over a desk job. A DESK JOB!

The Takeaway: I'm not a trapped caged animal. No one is trapped. If a job gets to the point where it becomes a monstrosity that is crushing out the air from your lungs, either leave or call for help. In the long run it might not be the job, it might be the person. It's my fault, I waited to long to stop the abuse. I have to work on it, and I definitely can't take it to my new job. If I find one.

Issue 4: Age Is More Than Just a Number

Unfortunately, society is ageist. One celebrity can marry a woman half his age and he's considered a boss. An older woman that dates a young man is a cougar. A young buck entering your firm might be considered a self-entitled jackass and needs to be kicked in said rear. That old man that stands over your desk while you're preparing a report is probably nervous about you taking his job. Whatever the case may be, I think there's another issue that's older than the Bible and it's the fact that no one wants to be considered obsolete.

People are not items, they're people. No one in their forties wants to be outstaged by a kid in their twenties. And, no one in their twenties wants to be treated like an insignificant speck or a errand boy/girl.

I have to train my brain into reminding myself that even though I'm old enough to drink, I don't have to treat older adults like my parents. They're not, they're my peers. And, I need to remember that they may not see me as their peer. They were starting their second careers when I was kicking back with a bottle in my mouth. They were raising their kids while I was learning how to use a potty. Again, I digress. The point is I forget that there's disconnect because of the differences of experience levels and not just age as a number.

My company and I'm sure a dozen other companies hire young employees, starts them at tiny entry level pay and then give them increments whether it'll be a 25-cent raise to a dollar or two. The model might've worked (never!) on a spreadsheet when operating costs are at play. But, they don't work in the real world. It's disheartening to find out that I might have to leave a company I'm loyal to and love because the pay just isn't fair and I can't afford to live on an interns salary. It's really hard to pay bills. I know the old rap song, Mo' Money Mo' Problems is true. But, No Money still doesn't mean there isn't any problems.

The Takeaway: Look at the person's work ethic and skills, don't focus on their age. But, at the same time remember that being younger means that other people probably don't get you, and the spreadsheets will reflect it. Someone preparing for retirement probably doesn't care if you have a car payment that eats half of your pay check. And, someone who prepares the spreadsheet probably doesn't know that your fridge is bare for at least a week until pay day.

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Final: Don't Let the Job Define You

I speak a little bit about my issues only because in a year or so I want to look back at this article, cringe at my typos and grammatical errors, and laugh because everything I worried about now is nothing compared to the stuff I have to worry about later. My manager who took me to the beach and out to dinner told me some advice that I've heard before, but really need to put into practice; Don't let your job define you.

I had no choice but to think about it. I let my job define me every day. I am a workaholic, but at the same time I develop flu-like symptoms when Monday rolls around. I'm only happy on pay day because it's a show of my accomplishments, and I'm happy for that one day, only.

My mother and I got into an argument, she said I drink to much, she said I haven't drank this much until I turned twenty-one. I told her the following:

"Mom, I didn't drink until I was twenty-one, because I'm legally allowed to drink. It's not even a big deal, I buy one bottle of wine every two weeks. I only buy a cheap bottle on my pay day because I freaking earned it. I work for two weeks straight and if I want a bottle of wine, I'm gonna get that bottle. Oh, and remember that six pack I bought this weekend, that's because it was pay day and I still have three bottles in the fridge..."

I thought about that argument with her. It made us laugh nervously at first. And, then I really thought about it. I only drink when I'm paid. I only celebrate my accomplishments when I get money. I don't go out with friends, I don't go kickboxing, I don't have a boyfriend, I don't leave my house for fourteen days, but on the fifteenth or thirtieth day of the month, I'm gonna get that bottle.

I know the old adage that someone is once a man and twice a child. But, why do I need a bottle to make me feel good? Why do I feel like I'm not worthy of some other reward when I'm paid? Why do I have to wait for my pay day?

In all honesty, I'm only worthy of my space on this planet when I have something to show for my job. Therefore, my job defines me, and I have to peal away that cover.

I thought I was a spiritual person until these situations with my job came up towards the beginning of this year. Thankfully, I'm more aware of my issues and I will not be backsliding. I feel a lot of guilt, and I shouldn't, because I'm not my job. It's just that a job.

The Takeaway: A job isn't a person. It's a thing. And, what matters in life isn't what you do. It's what you are as a person. Are you humble? Are you happy? Are you doing what makes you happy? I have to do what makes me happy, writing makes me happy. Going to the beach is my happiness. I can't let a job take away my joy of life or make me consider taking away that joy.

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