Be so for realty: Advocate for your wages as housing prices rise

Gwen Henry | Cartoonist

By The Editorial Board

When most college grads move to the new town or city where their career is located, the chances of their “home sweet home” being a mansion are slim, to say the least.

Yes, it’s likely whatever apartment or condo you end up renting once you leave Baylor will be anything but glamorous. Maybe it’s a little small, the appliances are a bit out-of-date and you have a lovely view of an ugly brown fence.

Unfortunately, even this vision is a hopeful one for many graduates entering the workforce. The reality is that housing costs are unaffordable for a record number of people these days, and those starting their careers are especially at risk of falling victim to unbearable expenses.

A recent report from Harvard found that there was an “all-time high” of 22.4 million renter households that spent more than 30% of their wages on rent and facilities. Not to mention, housing costs for 12.1 million Americans devoured more than half of their income. That doesn’t include paying for groceries, insurance, transportation, phone bills, taxes, student loans and any emergency funds or health expenses that aren’t covered by health insurance.

Oh — that’s also not even considering if the renter has children they need to provide for.

Overwhelming is an understatement. But that’s how it’s supposed to be, right?

We’d beg to differ. We’d also like to blame something other than the current housing market for financial stress. We’re looking at you, future employers.

Lowballing those applying for starting positions is something job recruiters do commonly. In fact, most are required to do so by their companies due to budget constraints and industry standards. However, what most people don’t know is that this isn’t a set number. There’s wiggle room for negotiation. So when you’re presented with a rather insulting lowball offer from an employer, you don’t have to settle.

Instead of accepting a paycheck you can simply survive on, advocate for one you can comfortably live on. Barely scraping by shouldn’t be the norm, no matter how early in your career you are. Even as a recent college graduate, though you may be new to your work environment, you are still a person who is educated, qualified and skilled, and you should be compensated for it.

To prevent yourself from being stiffed by your future employer, you’re going to need to do some thinking ahead, using that qualified brain of yours.

First, start studying up now on where you’re going to live and what the cost of living will likely be in that area. Then, do some research on what a typical paycheck might look like for someone working in your desired field of study. That way, you can use the numbers as leverage when negotiating your salary.

Keep in mind that your salary amount can have different meanings depending on where you’re going to live. For instance, a $50,000 salary in Waco could be worth only about half of what you’d need to live in San Francisco. If you want to take a look at what your starting salary might look like in your future town or city, check out this comparison calculator.

In addition to getting a feel for how much to ask for, gather techniques for discussing pay and benefits with your boss. You should not bring these matters up casually, nor should you let them stamp out your efforts to do so after hinting at the topic. Instead, you should have a sit-down conversation while maintaining polite yet firm composure. Just ask @advicewitherin — she’ll give you all the tips and tricks on how to be a boss at dealing with your boss.

Another on-campus, in-person resource you can use to learn about what your future career should look like is the trusty Career Center.

The bottom line is that having to turn your pockets inside out looking for grocery money should not be the norm, no matter where you are in your career journey — neither should having zero savings in your account when your car needs to be taken into the shop. You deserve to be able to live comfortably enough so that money is not constantly the biggest worry on your mind.

What should be normal is negotiating with your boss for a livable salary. Normalize talking with others in your field about how much you make for the purpose of creating awareness of what kind of pay is typical as well. Doing this can give others the confidence to negotiate their own pay and experience success early on.

If you have to settle for a low-quality yet pricey apartment, well … there’s not much you can do about it in this housing market. What you can do, though, is take the initiative to advocate for yourself and know your worth.