Chances are good that there is someone else in the world who can do your job better than you can, who is willing to work a lot harder, who can spend more time on the job, and who will accept a lower salary for the same position.
Thus is the inequity in the employment marketplace when living expenses are drastically different around the world. A recent article on CNN Money shows how this can result in favoritism. A business owner in the technology industry named Ola Ayeni, an immigrant from Nigeria, explains how he would rather hire foreigners than Americans. A link to this story appears at the bottom of this article.
On one hand, there’s the matter of cost. Ayeni said hiring the best American candidates can prove too expensive for a startup, because larger companies typically offer them better wages. Instead of settling for second-tier American candidates, which would put him at a competitive disadvantage, Ayeni would prefer better access to “Class-A” foreigners.
There’s also his view on their work ethic. Ayeni feels that many Americans take for granted their inherited economic opportunities, the kind he didn’t have back in Nigeria.
My ancestors were immigrants to this country. All of our ancestors were immigrants at one point, but my family, for the most part, was part of a massive wave of immigration from Eastern Europe in the late nineteenth century. Some became successful business owners while others were poor in Europe and remained relatively poor in the United States.
Regardless of their economic position, they worked hard. This was the only option. They needed to survive financially because the consequences of failure were dire. Going back to Europe was not an option. Several generations later, the stakes for my family aren’t nearly as high, and the same is true for most Americans whose families have been in the country for at least a few generations.
Immigration is a concern in this country during difficult economic times. The few jobs that are available go to those with strong work ethic and willingness to accept “competitive” salaries. As a result, to protect “our” jobs, the most economically vulnerable Americans would prefer the government make it difficult for immigrants to compete for the same jobs, with a message not much differentiated from Ausl&aunl;nder raus!
The strong work ethic of immigrants comes from the lack of options. When you need to work just to survive, when a family at home is counting on your income to live, not just thrive, there is a kind of motivation that is unfamiliar to most Americans. For a family living outside of the United States, each dollar sent can go much further to feed a family than it can go here, so workers here supporting those families can accept smaller salaries.
Should an experienced web applications developer earn a salary above $100,000? If he or his family has been in this country for a generation, that may be the salary he’s looking for. Recent immigrants just ask skilled and more motivated could be willing to take a lower salary, driving down the market range for that type of job, making it difficult for citizens with bigger financial needs to make a living in a career that was touted as being a great opportunity for long-term success.
Xenophobia is not a solution. No immigration policy will stop the progression of the economic future of this world over the next century, wherein the pool of employees for jobs encompasses people who are willing to work harder for less money. Companies, by the nature of capitalism are concerned with the bottom line and productivity, will continue to seek to save money in the cost of their human resources. Technology, more than immigration, opens the door for a competitive employment marketplace unlike anything the world has encountered before.
For the worker with a high cost of living and the kind of economic situation that doesn’t necessitate a life-or-death desire to constantly work at full capacity, some adjustment might be necessary to ensure long-term financial independence.
1. Become the employer.
Start a business; begin nurturing the entrepreneurial side of your personality. While unions have in the past helped to balance the power between employers and employees, this does not seem to be the direction in which our economic society is moving any longer. And with millions of people around the world needing jobs, no matter how they are treated by their employers, you can be sure that we will be living in an “employers’ market” for decades to come.
Stop looking for jobs and start creating them.
2. Work like your life depends on it.
In the nineties and the first decade of the new millennium, work/life balance was a popular catchphrase. We wanted to be able to maintain a comfortable position in the workplace while having the flexibility to make the most of our lives outside of the job. Companies still tout their positive attitude towards work/life balance as a benefit.
It is possible to work hard for eight hours, do a great job in the office, and leave your work behind at the end of day. It’s possible to have the flexibility to take care of personal issues during what would be considered the work day. The benefit even includes the flexibility of keeping a schedule different than the standard nine-to-five work day, and that’s even important in a globalized environment, where you have to deal with customers, for example, who live on the other side of the world.
The problem with maintaining this attitude is that there are many qualified individuals who are willing to put aside their concept of work/life balance. When there is a desperate need for earning money for basic survival, life can become work. Someone who wants to leave work early every Wednesday to be present for their children or care for a sick parent can’t compete with those willing to focus entirely on their occupation — for less money.
I strongly believe that the perception of productivity as a virtue is a form of corporate brainwashing to an extent. It’s the need for a company to get the most out of its human resources for as little expense as possible. I’ve seen this happen on the small scale, with required motivational seminars teaching employees how to give their all to the organization, and teaching employers how to convince their workers their jobs are worth making personal sacrifices.
As a result, there are people who believe their self-worth is defined on their ability to excel beyond their boss’s expectations, and that can be a motivating factor when the need for basic survival is no longer a large enough concern to inspire unending dedication to the job.
While I can’t support this manipulation personally, the problem today is that there are so many people willing to go above and beyond expectations that those who have any level of concern for life outside of their job can be cast aside for those who have no concerns other than the perception of their superiors. To compete with this reality, you need to lose yourself.
3. Engineer your life so you can survive on less.
Potential employees willing to accept lower levels of compensation drive down the market prices for employees in just about every industry. As an employer, would you pay someone $100,000 a year to do a job when you can pay someone just as talented, dedicated, educated, and experienced $50,000? And if you get better results from the employee earning $50,000, will you ever pay $100,000 again for the same job?
We tend to plan our finances as if our salary is going to increase year after year. Financial planners ask this question. Retirement planning software ask users to input a percentage of increase they expect for their income over the course of their lifetime. Salaries don’t rise on their own. Cost-of-living increases are generally a joke, and you have to compete hard with your coworkers for a pool of funds available for raises and bonuses.
Real salaries, after taking inflation into account, have not increased over the last decade. Over the long term, you’re going to earn less money year after year — certainly if you stay in the same job, and likely even if you progress in normal steps up a corporate ladder. As time goes on, more and more qualified employees accepting lower compensation will continue to hold your salary back.
You can find ways to make more of the money you’re earning. The adjustment you could make that has the most effect is changing your expectations for your living environment. Owning a house with surrounding property is a massive expense. It’s more than just the cost of the house and the price of the debt you’ll need to afford to buy the house. It’s the cost of maintenance and repairs, and the cost of living a life where you’re expected to maintain apparent financial parity with your neighbors.
As this is a global marketplace, consider moving your family somewhere in the world where your money will go much farther. Immigrants are coming to the United States to earn a better living, but if you can work for an American company while living somewhere else in the world where the cost of living is much lower, you can live your dream life on the same salary — just without immediate access to all the benefits that living in the United States has to offer.
How will you adjust to the fact that globalization is changing the employment marketplace?
Published or updated February 8, 2013.