by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D.
Almost a quarter of the U.S. workforce — some 30 million Americans — can be classified as low-wage workers, toiling in jobs that are often part-time, with little or no benefits, and average pay of under $9 an hour.
Here are the keys to surviving working in low-wage jobs — and moving beyond them whenever possible. Follow these rules and you should achieve success in moving ahead in your job/career.
- Do seek career counseling to learn about other job choices. Many communities offer free or low-cost counseling through government-sponsored One Stop Career Centers. Find the one in or near your community by using this service locator.
- Don’t let employers treat you as less than human. Find a way to fight back — or find a new job.
- Do find the right employer — one who respects employees at all levels within the company. A growing number of companies are offering more equitable pay, career ladders, and other benefits.
- Don’t give up hope for finding a better job with a better wage.
- Do focus on the skills you use in your current job (as well as previous jobs, hobbies, volunteer work, household chores, etc.) to build a skills portfolio that you can transfer to new jobs. Go to our transferable skills section to learn more about this technique.
- Don’t quit your current job, especially if you are the main wage earner for your family, until you have lined up another job.
- Do use your network of contacts — family, friends, co-workers, former bosses, neighbors, etc. — to help you identify new jobs and employers. And do work on expanding your network at every opportunity. Read more about networking.
- Don’t ever lose the dignity you have for working hard and performing a solid day’s work. It’s the American Work Ethic.
- Do pursue educational opportunities whenever they are presented to you — whether getting training from an employer or attending a local vocational or community college.
- Don’t go it alone; do find a mentor, someone who can help you and guide you as you search for better jobs, employers. A mentor is someone higher in your organization or career field who can guide you, help you, take you under his or her wing, and nurture your career quest. Read more about finding a mentor.
- Do become politically active. Register to vote — and vote for political candidates who support activities that will improve your wages and working conditions (such as increasing the minimum wage or supporting living-wage laws).
- Don’t let bosses or employers bully you or threaten you when you challenge wages or working conditions — or when a labor union or some other employee collective tries to bargain for employee rights.
- Do take advantage of all governmental assistance offered to low-wage workers, especially the Earned Income Tax Credit.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
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