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Summary: I took a job offer because it was my top choice. I feel very inclined that I am underpaid for the education and experience (masters degree in science with equivalent, 5 years of full time, relevant work experience) that I have and the manager implicitly justified the amount because it was my "first job" after completing grad school and therefore an entry level position. I like the work and the coworkers are awesome but I feasibly am unable to actually live a life outside the job because I can already barely afford basic living expenses (Due to inflation and taxes) and paying off debts. I make 60k a year after taxes and live in California, US. This amount would be fine probably in almost any other state given living costs, but this seems low for this state. I will address the issue in one year with the manager directly but do I sound like I am being ungrateful or maybe narcissistic and that this is just the standard for everyone now?

Full scenario: I took an offer for a job recently because it was my top choice for work. I have a masters in science and have been working more than double time (No exaggeration, 90-100 hours per week, sometimes not even sleeping or eating) for school and my jobs I have been in throughout all of my 7 years in undergraduate and graduate school. I had no social life at all and focused all my time towards my degree and my jobs in the hopes that all of it would culminate in me acquiring my top choice career. I even took a year off from school so I could work at one of these aerospace jobs full time and I legitimately slept in my office because I was working so much. I did extremely fulfilling work, being a part of amazing aerospace projects at private companies various laboratories as an aerospace engineer and scientist. So in total I'd say I have also 5 years of full time work experience built up along with the education. I had worked so hard and for so long that I actually accumulated health problems because of the stress. Humorsly I even have a lot of white hair and I'm just 26.

However, my goals in life changed and I decided I wanted to go into the semiconductor industry. The great thing about physics is that it's applicable everywhere. And the engineering soft and technical skills I have acquired are also applicable across most engineering disciplines. The job I got is directly relevant (technically knowledge wise) to my education and work experience even though it's not aerospace and I am strongly inclined to think this is the case.

So with that work/education background and worth ethic, is it justified that with all this that I am making 60k a year after taxes? I did miscalculate the amount of taxes I would have to pay based on my offer letter, so I honestly thought I was going to get a little more. This was the first time I had to do this too and I did my best. For clarification I am salaried exempt. The manager implicitly justified the amount because it was my "first job" after completing grad school and therefore an entry level position (I assume they meant entry level because I was in a different industry?).

For the area I live in, I am in the cheapest possible situation (Housing, food, etc.). I can't even afford to finance any used car since mine is close to breaking down from age. I am barely breaking even and whatever I have left is going right into trying to pay off my debt. Usually $100 left at the end of each month to pay down debt (After already paying the interest too) so I am paying it impossibly slow. So I also can't even afford to drive anywhere to have any life outside work either because I can't afford the gas to do it so all I do is commute to and from the job and just sit at home, hoping my appliances don't break.

I am fairly confident that I am underpaid by just googling around and comparing my wage to a friend that also has a similar job but he has both less experience and education as me yet gets paid more almost 40k more annually. Moreover, I am not sure if the amounts I see online are pre or post tax amounts (They aren't specified) so they could be significantly different depending. I'm just trying to figure things out because I want to pay off my debt faster and actually be able to afford to do anything outside my job so I am not stuck sitting at home every evening and during the weekends...

That being said, I do like the work and it goes towards an important cause which is why I applied to the company, but I cannot feasibly see myself staying longer than a year and the only reason I am even staying a year is because I want to get into the semiconductor industry and this is a good in for that. I am not entirely sure though because it is my "first" job after graduate school and I would like other's perspectives to see if I should be grateful for even having this job or getting paid this much. If I could leave sooner than a year because I found a job that is equally fulfilling and pays more, I would but I don't want to risk those employers thinking I am ONLY working for them for the money which has never been the case with me. I don't know if just 1 year is too short either or if I should stay longer before finding something else in this industry. Any advice is appreciated.

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    "*Almost all my coworkers are only PhDs so it makes me think like it's worth taking the L in salary..." What does "the L in salary" mean ? Oct 8, 2022 at 23:02
  • How long have you been working for your current company ? Oct 8, 2022 at 23:15
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    You're not narcissistic. You were taken advantage of. Tell your salary to your immediate colleagues. I'm sure they'll gasp. Talk to your manager now, not next year. "Entry level". My ass. This is unacceptable. May I ask in what field you are in? Oct 9, 2022 at 0:26
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    “60k a year after taxes” is what, 100k, 120k? Reasonable for entry level for sure.
    – mxyzplk
    Oct 9, 2022 at 13:25
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    No site or job offer or job posting posts “post tax salary,” that’s not a thing.
    – mxyzplk
    Oct 9, 2022 at 13:27

3 Answers 3

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Don't "guess" whether you're underpaid.

Find out

Go and get another job offer somewhere else and see how much they offer you.

Because one of 2 things is going to happen.

Either you're going to get offers around the same level as what you're currently earning, in which case you can stop feeling underpaid and start working on how to be offered more money either at your current job or elsewhere.

Or you're going to get offered more than what you're currently being paid. In which case congratulations! You can now do something about it. Either by taking the offer or by using it to get a raise from your current employer.

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    Thank you for the advice. This is a very good idea. I will try this.
    – Richard
    Oct 9, 2022 at 15:28
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Generally, you should probably work for at least 1 year for a company before you look for another job unless there is a special circumstance or an exception. That way, employers would likely think that you want to work for them for the long term.

I make $60k per year after taxes and live in California, US.

That is probably a valid reason for you to look for a new job with a higher salary (especially when you have a master degree in science).

I will address the issue in one year with the manager directly ?

Yes, after 1 year, you should talk to your manager about big salary raise.

... I don't want to risk those employers thinking I am ONLY working for them for the money which has never been the case with me.

Don't worry. Go ahead and apply for new jobs. Everyone knows that salary is one of the main reasons people switch jobs.

Of course, salary is not the most important factor in looking for a new job. However, at least, people should have a satisfactory salary to pay the bills and save money for raining days.

Again, if possible, please work for a company for at least 1 year before you switch job.

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  • I see salaries online stating that masters degree engineers in California make at least $90k. Do you know if this is pre or post tax? Like for example, Glassdoor states the average is 126k but doesn't specify anywhere about that: glassdoor.com/Salaries/….
    – Richard
    Oct 8, 2022 at 23:22
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    Most likely, the salary listed on the job posts or on those websites would be pre tax. Oct 8, 2022 at 23:35
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    You wrote that your offer is $105K, and your income after tax is about $60K ? Is it true ? If yes, it seems you pay too much for tax ? Can you talk to a tax accountant to see if they can help you out ? Google search shows that if you make $100K in California, your tax should be from $25K to $30K, which is still too high IMHO, but that is the average number. Oct 9, 2022 at 2:18
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    Maybe this is just the standard now... but I don't know, I also feel like it could be scaled more accordingly with state living expenses too.
    – Richard
    Oct 9, 2022 at 3:53
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    @Richard I live in NYC (not quite California, but close depending where) and $105k pre-tax for a new-ish engineer sounds fairly reasonable (although the tax doesn't really, but it sounds like it's tax + other deductions so actually reasonable in the end). Truly getting a lower salary in a cheaper state can actually result in more "available" money, since living expenses vary widely depending where you are.
    – Esther
    Oct 9, 2022 at 4:12
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My first bit of advice:

Suck it up, it's your first job.

I know this sounds harsh - but Internships and work experience are not real life in a Job. I'm not discounting the work you did - I'm just saying that when a student says 'Work Experience', I take it with a massive Grain of Salt. Your employer will be too.

Next up is expectations - $60K USD is over $100K NZD and some googling suggests it's a pretty decent income for a single person without a family (I'm assuming you don't have kids) - and again, this is for a first Job.

You mention you live in Commiefornia, a State that even non-US people know to be extremely expensive, both in terms of Rent/Mortgages and Taxes.

You say you are barely making enough to live - What sort of living are you expecting to do? Go out every night for Dinner and Drinks?

In summary to answer your closing question: "but do I sound like I am being ungrateful or maybe narcissistic" - My answer is a resounding Yes.

Now, all that said, I want to offer some constructive advice - if you work as hard as you say you do, then it's easily conceivable that in 6 months or even 3 months you bring up the question of a Raise with your Manager - There's no arbitrary time-limit for doing so and if you are completing the tasks and working the extra hours - then you absolutely can ask for a raise sooner.

If it's research, I'm assuming remote-work isn't a possibility - which means you are stuck in California - I don't know if you are renting a single person house/apartment or if you are flatting - if you aren't, I'd suggest looking at flatting/getting room-mates - your costs will drastically go down - it may suck if you like to live on your own - but you have to make the decision as to what is more important to you.

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  • I am already planning to get room mates. Only reason I don't already is because I've never lived in this state before and knew no one so I didn't want to room with random people (I've had bad room mates before and they can cause extreme hardship). As I said, I'm barely breaking even because of the living expenses. I've been skipping meals to save money and whatever I make at the end of the month (in the hundreds) goes to debt payment. I understand the ideas about internships, but the work I did were not not, they were legitimate jobs. Sucks that the employer doesn't see it that way either.
    – Richard
    Oct 9, 2022 at 14:36
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    As above - you gotta pick your poison - dealing with crap room mates (which sucks - been there) vs dealing with debt and the bank. You also gotta take ownership of the situation you are in - which is both incredibly privileged and voluntary - you chose the higher education route (and good for you!) but don't complain that in the meantime you gotta pay for it. As for Internships - simply put a company doesn't have the same investment and interest to an Intern than it does for a full employee - hence why it's not viewed the same. You are learning on the company dime, effectively. Oct 9, 2022 at 18:52

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