Work Smart to Make Yourself More Valuable Than the Minimum Wage

A reader responded to my argument against a federal minimum wage hike to $15 per hour with the predictable class warfare vitriol, only this one was a little different. Most proponents of the minimum wage hike deny that it will put some small businesses out of business. He didn’t. In fact, he welcomed a cleansing of the market of businesses he says have made a living on the backs of the minimum-wage workers.

But what about his job? What if his business was one of those wiped out? He said he’d find another job making more money with no trouble. Then why hasn’t he done it? The short answer is he’s not worth more than the minimum wage. He may not even be worth that, but we’ll never know since, by law, his employer can’t pay him less.

That’s not a dig at him. It just happens to be where he is right now. If he could demand more money for his labor he would’ve done it by now. What he needs to do is take a serious look at his situation and ask himself why. Why can’t he earn more?

I have a way of illustrating this that paints an inescapable picture. You have to figuratively imagine how many people are standing in line behind you who can do the job you’re doing. If you can’t see the end of the line, you’re not going to be able to demand much of a wage. Don’t blame your employer. It’s on you.

I tell my staff at work and my listeners on the radio, and I’ll tell you: make yourself a valuable employee. I don’t want to hear things like “they don’t pay me enough to do that.” They pay you to do your job. Go above and beyond what’s required of you to do it.

Martin Luther King Jr. once said if you’re a street sweeper be the best street sweeper you can be. (In fact, Dr. King said those called to be street sweepers should “sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.’”) People are afraid of being chumps. They resent an employer who takes advantage of them. I know from experience that getting in there and doing what needs to be done without grumbling will pay off in spades. In the process you learn how to do things that make you more valuable to the next employer.

If you want to get ahead you’ve got to be willing to take some chances. They don’t always pan out, but many do. If that means moving to where the work is, you may have to move. Too many people expect the perfect job within a few miles’ radius of their home. Sometimes it doesn’t work out that way. You have to go where the work is.

And it’s not about working hard, although that’s a crucial attribute. It’s about working smart. You can be the best street sweeper that you can be, but you’ll never make any money at it, and that’s fine as long as your work is fulfilling and you’re happy.

I suspect the gentleman who wrote to me has a few issues. First and foremost is his attitude. He’s not a happy man. He’s obsessed with people who make more than he does, and not in a good way. He hates them. He’s jealous. That’s a bad start at getting ahead in your job. People can smell an attitude a mile away.

It also says a lot about a person when they’re more obsessed with people who make more money than they do, rather than those who make less. I want everyone to be successful. If your only raise is when the government mandates it, you’re not.


About the Author

Phil Valentine is an author and nationally syndicated radio talk show host with Westwood One. For more of his commentary and articles, visit philvalentine.com.

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