Yes, I Work for Money

One of the major problems in our American culture today is that even though every job is literally “working for the money”, there’s an awful lot of social judgment put on people for looking at and negotiating the financial aspect of their work.  That seems wrong, especially in a nominally capitalist system.

From Hollywood culture, there’s a lot of push to demonize people who “do things for money”, as if life should be spent doing only those things that bring you innate pleasure.  I am not oblivious of the irony of producing a for-profit movie whose message is that money does or should not matter, but it seems that many people take that message and try to apply it to a world that is not a contrived fiction.  This even trickles down and gets misrepresented as if being rich itself were some kind of crime.

Then there’s the problem of negotiating pay for work.  I realize that asking about money upfront is ill-informed (how could you know how much to ask for before you know what the job is?), but people need to be comfortable talking about money, and doing it as if their lives depend on it (because it does).  The fact that unpaid internships, volunteer positions, and actual jobs are sometimes advertised in the same spaces does not help anything, since there’s no way you can accept a position if you were looking for a job but discover it is actually completely unpaid.  Unrealistic employer expectations (that you will relocate and live at your own expense while working for their benefit) have not helped this process.

All this creates an atmosphere where talking about money is taboo, but it needs to be discussed openly because money and financial security are important.  Even if you don’t want to be wealthy, nobody wants to be poor.    I have been extremely frustrated by persons who advertise for unpaid internships on job boards who mislead me into thinking we are discussing an actual paid position when they have no intention of paying anyone to work, and equally frustrated by peers who literally told me “never, ever ask what a job pays; just take it and be happy to work.”  This is not a healthy for capitalism, and it undermines basic workers’ rights.

Making sure you aren’t being taking advantage of in the job-market requires knowledge and some negotiation skills, but it also requires that we remove that taboo on money.  Yes, the wealthy would rather we not discuss money and pretend it’s all about our moral character and willingness to work, but it’s not.  If you don’t negotiate for your pay, you let the employer unilaterally set your pay rate.  Could anyone realistically be a “pay what you want” professional worker, in any field?

And yes, sometimes that means taking a crappy job you don’t want just to get money because it’s all people are willing to pay you to do.  There shouldn’t be a great deal of shame in doing what needs to be done.  The problem is that not only has the system found a way to rip people off, it also stigmatizes them for being robbed of their just wages by the very same people who are also getting screwed over.  This is a completely backwards part of our culture, and it needs to be fixed.


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