Do you work at an hourly job?

For years, I have been opposed to hourly jobs. For one thing, they are the lower status in my field. If you are an hourly teacher, you don’t have job security or sick days or anything like that. Often you don’t get paid for prep time. Sometimes you are expected to do quite a bit of work off the clock. If you are an hourly worker in retail, you may be sent home if things are slow, or docked for lunch. It’s the sign of an undesirable job. Also, my husband, who works on an hourly basis, gets laid off or given short weeks, and there is nothing to be done about it.

What’s more, I am a very efficient worker. I don’t want to brag. I’m just fast. Partly it’s because I read very quickly, and a lot of what I do involves reading and understanding things. It give me a bit of an edge. But that means that, if I work on an hourly basis, I get paid less for the same level of production than people who are slower. Doesn’t seem fair.

But I have run into the hourly wage issue in two contexts lately.

First, there is the question of what I charge for freelance work. Much as I have been avoiding the hourly rate issue, it is the norm for the kind of work I’m doing. The client I’m meeting with today is being pleasantly insistent on an hourly rate, no matter how delicately I resist.

However, I have a bit of a problem with that. It may be an odd problem. Specifically, people who do this work get paid vastly more than I am accustomed to being paid. It seems wrong to ask for that much more money, sort of all of a sudden.

The other viewpoint, of course, is that I have been seriously underpaid the whole time I’ve been doing this. A fellow practitioner pointed out that my working for way less than anyone else would “distort the market,” just as handmade quilts from China have pushed our local quilters out of a market they dominated for generations. However, since I was learning on the job, I think I could see the past year as an internship.

Now, it isn’t just as simple as my being too modest to ask for the going rate. Thre is also the fact that I have a mental lowest price per hour. I haven’t worked at an hourly rate for decades, and wouldn’t if I were asked to in my previous fields, but when I look at freelance work (which I often do) or self-employment kinds of things, then I have a certain number at the back of my mind. If the total is going to be less than that, I won’t do it.

I mentioned this number to two people this week, when asked. The lady at the temp agency promptly threw me out for being too expensive. The computer guy probably thought I was insanely inexpensive, so much so that I must not be any good. 

Are there issues of justice here?

I spoke with The Resume Wizard today, and she told me to quadruple my hourly rate. Not suggested or anything. Just instructed me to. I pointed out to her what people in respectable jobs make around here per year. She was appalled. Sort of like me at the temp agency, when the nice lady there told me what their workers get paid. I think I may have just gone pale at the words.

But then she pointed out that freelance work involves overhead. And research. And time in between clients when you aren’t being paid by anyone. She said, “You know your life story and you think you just exude that. People won’t pay you what you’re worth if you don’t ask for it.” She also pointed out that since I am working in cyberspace, it doesn’t matter what the local salaries are.,

But it still seems to me that I have to consider my actual value to a client. The store once got a quote from a computer specialist. We thought about how long it would take us to earn back the money they were asking for, and decided we couldn’t make that much more by hiring them. I wouldn’t want people to feel that way about me.

So I tripled my number.

It won’t help at the temp agency, of course, but it could make me seem more convincing in the computer context.