4 Reasons Your Current Job May Be Underpaying You

Is it a struggle to pay the bills every month? Does it feel like you are throwing every dollar you have into surviving, only to feel like you have nothing left over to show for it? Or do you maybe just wish that you could afford a higher standard of living — a fully-functional car, perhaps, or a house to call your own?

If so, here are 4 key reasons you may have a relatively-low paycheck at the end of the month, and what you can do about each situation. For the purposes of this article, “relatively low” means you are making less than $50,000/year for full-time work in the United States in 2020.


Unskilled work is the easiest to find, and it can sometimes be hard to get away from. I know from personal experience: I’ve worked 18 jobs in just 12 years in the workforce, and at least 11 of those jobs required little more on my resume than “has a pulse, will show up for shifts on time.”

Other telltale signs of unskilled work are most easily seen if you put yourself in your manager’s shoes. How hard would it be to replace you? If they put a “Help Wanted” sign on the front door, what qualifications would a new candidate need to qualify for your exact position?

Worse still, could the company replace you with a computer tomorrow? This was the situation for me when I was a cashier at Target. When I started seeing self-checkouts getting installed, I knew it was time to move on.

There is nothing wrong with doing unskilled work. In fact, it can be a great way to bring in some side income or get a job fast in a pinch. However, working in fields like food and retail, or working solely off of the gig economy, are not pathways to wealth for most people. There are few opportunities for high-paying positions in these arenas, and they usually require many long years of low-paying work to get there.


Unfortunately, the job market is not structured so the jobs that help people the most necessarily pay the most. Some fields simply pay better for a whole host of reasons. The most lucrative careers typically pay for the person, not the work the person does (think actors, CEOs, and quarterbacks); some fields have more jobs than there are people who can do them; some jobs are so unappealing that they have to pay well; and, when you look at the numbers, some fields pay better because they are seen as men’s work.

Worth millions?

At the end of the day, it is important to recognize the reality that nurses, pharmacy technicians, social workers, and teachers are simply not paid as well as they should be, even if it is not a reality we want to accept. I absolutely hope that people who love these professions for the good they do for others continue to do them, but if you are in one of them and it is not paying the bills, you will have an uphill battle to climb unless you can find a more lucrative sector of the market to pursue.


Lots of people want to be writers, musicians, or actors for a full-time living. And let’s not limit artistic work to traditional fields; YouTube vloggers, video game speed-runners, and social media personalities fit this bill, too. The appeal is obvious: self-expression is extremely fulfilling for humans, as is storytelling.

It would be even better to get paid for one of these things though, right? Then you could devote yourself to your artistic endeavor full-time.

That’s all true. However, there is very heavy competition to stand out in these fields. As with several of the aforementioned service jobs, many people want to do this work and get paid for it. Plus, measuring quality of an artistic endeavor is highly subjective, so it is hard to “make it” in an artistic field even if you are enormously talented.

That’s not to say that you should give up on your dream. Don’t! But if the bills are due and the dream does not yet pay them, make sure to manage your finances some other way, at least for now.


With the advent of internet job boards and online learning platforms, employees can switch jobs more easily than ever, and that is exactly what they are doing. The average time an employee stays at a job before finding another one is only about 4.2 years. It has been that way since 2016.

To be sure, where you are in your career and what type of career you have affect how frequently it makes sense for you to switch jobs. Younger members of the workforce will probably benefit from switching between (and out of) entry-level positions more quickly, whereas older members of the workforce may be in high enough positions that companies will go out of their way, financially, to keep them.

But the average company’s annual raise (3%, ish) is substantially lower than the average pay increase an employee gets when they leave (10% or more). As such, it is wise to be on the lookout for a new job every three years or so for most people.

I had an unusual experience here, but one that still points to the advantage of switching jobs: I received a ~20% raise for staying another year at my last job, but received a ~30% raise (not counting benefits) for switching jobs the year after.


Does one of these reasons (or more than one) sound like your situation? If they do and you are considering a career change, check out our posts about careers that lead to six-figure salaries and high-paying jobs that don’t require a Bachelor’s Degree for some possibilities to pursue.

If one of those career paths interests you, or another one is on your mind, be sure to sign up for the Novum Opus mailing list to stay in-the-know about our upcoming content. We will be covering how to start a new career in upcoming posts, so stay tuned!

Originally published at https://www.novumopus.com on September 12, 2020.



I write about personal finance, career growth, and making the most of the new workforce. You can find my blog at novumopus.com.

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Dan Rice

I write about personal finance, career growth, and making the most of the new workforce. You can find my blog at novumopus.com.