Sucking Up My Pride: Working For Minimum Wage

The unemployment website tells me I have been unemployed for almost a year. That means that I have actually been unemployed for over a year – 15 months ago, to be exact, is when I made the possibly ill-conceived decision to quit a terrible job in the middle of a recession. I thought I would be unemployed for a maximum of six months. And when I qualified for unemployment insurance after completing my work for the census last summer, I was grateful. Then I had to extend it, because I still hadn’t found work. And now that it’s about to run out completely, I’m terrified.

I recognize my privilege in this situation. For instance, my boyfriend has steady employment, and his salary is enough to cover most of the living expenses that I can’t. Also, I am educated and qualified for higher-paying positions once the economy gets better. I speak English as my first language, and I have no disabilities that prevent me from working. I know that I have many advantages that make this a temporary situation, but it doesn’t necessarily make it an easier one.

Because my unemployment was running out, I had to take any job that came my way, and that’s how I ended up working a minimum wage, part-time job at a gym’s front desk in which my net monthly income is half as much as my rent.  Forget about the rest of my bills, which I have repeatedly explained to the student loan people who call me daily. Sometimes twice. So, here I am in this job that does not provide for my basic needs, and I have nothing to do but suck up my pride and just do it. Let me tell you, that’s been one of the hardest parts. Sure, I hate that I am in a constant state of anxiety about money, but I have a very limited amount of control over that. In fact, it’s so overwhelming that it’s almost surreal; I guess that’s a coping mechanism. But that pride… if I had a dollar for every time someone at my new place of employment asked if I’m still in school, I might be able to make my rent this month. As it is, I just want to scream, “I have a Master’s degree! I just made some poor life choices!” and then curl up in the chair that I am not allowed to sit in.

I have never worked in customer service before. In fact, I’ve never earned minimum wage. All of the entry-level positions I’ve held have been, if not a living wage, above minimum wage. The demoralization that comes with busting your ass, getting yelled at, and coming home with sore feet that still hurt the next day just doesn’t seem worth the $40 paycheck you’ll be bringing home from that shift. The general disrespect with which people treat those who work in service positions shocks me on a regular basis. It’s not like I was never familiar with this phenomenon before, but when you’re on the receiving end of the behavior that people have towards those they consider less-than, it’s pretty soul crushing.

This gym is a big fan of corporate-speak, things like “opportunities for growth!” and “Learning Journeys!” Because it amuses me, I have fully embraced this ridiculous motivational poster ideology. Fortunately, on my Learning Journey in this job, there are plenty of opportunities for growth. I have been working on developing some personality traits that could have used some improvement as well as reexamining my priorities (Bye, cable TV! We’ll miss you!). While I have never necessarily avoided hard work, I have definitely stayed away from shitty jobs. I have never really developed the quality that people have where they just do crappy jobs because they have to. I mean, I quit my job with no other job because it sucked, and look where that got me. But I think this job is really helping me develop this trait, as much as I’m fighting it and complaining about how much I don’t want to do this job. On the other end of the spectrum, I have always felt that my sense of humor as been an asset and has carried me through difficult situations, and I am happy to say that it’s true in this job as well. I’m finding that if I can laugh off an obnoxious customer or make a joke about a ridiculous coworker, it’s makes it a lot easier to manage. And I can tell the story to my boyfriend while I’m soaking my aching feet in Epsom salts.

In the end, I am considering this a personal growth experience, even it’s not one of financial growth. That said, I wouldn’t turn down a full-time salary job.  For my pride, if nothing else.

By Luci Furious

There are no bad times, only good stories.

8 replies on “Sucking Up My Pride: Working For Minimum Wage”

I’m career retail/customer service, and in my last true retail (mall) job, we had 17 employees. 14 had post-secondary education. 11 had college degrees. Five had graduate degrees. The employment landscape is changing out there. A college degree these days is no more helpful to a career than a high school diploma, and the era of the “unskilled worker” is dead. Workers have skills, they just don’t have jobs that utilize those skills.

In theory, I think everyone should have to work in a store or a restaurant for at least six months, but the truth of it is, I don’t know if most people could cut it. A lot of entitled people would completely lose their shit the first time they were screamed at, humiliated, had something thrown at them, or been called a fucking idiot. I know I wouldn’t want to work with most people if mandatory customer service work were instituted. I’d fire ’em all by the end of the second day.

Keep fighting the good fight, Luci. Things are going to turn at some point. They have to. My state is consistently in the top five for highest unemployment rates, and something has to give. Soon.

While my “day job” pays more than minimum wage, it still wouldn’t add up to a liveable amount of money were it not for my live-in partner. It’s amazing how people can treat you as if you should be grateful to have a job at all, when the one you have has all the drawbacks of a salaried job but none of the perks.

This comment made no sense.

The demoralization that comes with busting your ass, getting yelled at, and coming home with sore feet that still hurt the next day just doesn’t seem worth the $40 paycheck you’ll be bringing home from that shift. The general disrespect with which people treat those who work in service positions shocks me on a regular basis.

Ugh, as a 10+ veteran of customer service positions I hear you on this point. If every person was forced to work in customer service for some period maybe they wouldn’t be so rude and entitled after seeing what it’s like on the other side of the counter. I hope you find a position in your field soon, try not to let the bastards get you down too much!

I’ve worked a good number of hours at shitty jobs, and a sense of humor is your best defense. I can only imagine how much the TeamSpeak! is magnified at a gym.
“Build your core… OF SYNERGY PARADIGMS!”
One thing that got me through a particularly grueling stretch of human services work was the handful of people who DO remember to say please and thank you, and smile, too. When you’re used to things being pretty comfortable, and they aren’t any more, it’s a lot easier to be grateful for little gifts, like people who know how to be kind to service workers.
Good luck on your growth journey, all the way to a full-time gig that pays the bills.

At least you had the guts to leave a job that sucked. Whether it was a good or bad idea in terms of the economy I think is a moot point. If you’d stayed, you may be more financially solvent, but would you be any happier than you are now? My current job is full of people, myself included, who want nothing more than to work somewhere else. But, no one is hiring. Most schools are laying people off. We only stay in this toxic place with a toxic administration because we have bills and loved ones to support. And it’s turning us to a person into miserable, cynical people.

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