When work-related expenses make a job not worth your time

A forlorn, shaggy dog is seated at a table. Eyeglasses, a pad of paper and a pen are on the table in front of it.

A downtrodden categorization of America's working poor. (Photo Credit: CC BY/My Name is Gigi)

In a down economy, a job would seem like a precious thing. It would seem that way, if not for the fact that sometimes, having a job is more expensive than it’s worth. Following the philosophy that it “takes money to make money,” the International Council of Shopping Centers notes that scores of U.S. workers who are forced to take part-time jobs, particularly those of the minimum-wage variety, don’t earn enough money to continue profitably in their jobs.

Working poor can’t handle the expense

According to the international council, U.S. office workers spend approximately $195 each week on work-related expenses such as commuting and purchases made near work, typically for coffee and lunch. While many would argue that stimulation and sustenance are necessary when faced with the commonly repetitive nature of such venues of employment as office work, $195 per week is a huge expense for those who aren’t paid much to begin with. In areas with more places to spend, the study found is as much as 2.5 times higher.

Many workers part-time or otherwise don’t have the luxury of being able to depend upon public transport and the generosity of friends and family. As such, road tolls, gasoline and lunch are necessary expenses for the worker who would actually make money. Jobs like construction that involve having to purchase tools and maintain a large enough vehicle become even more problematic.

Some work-related expenses can be itemized

While this offers little comfort for the average member of the working poor, it is possible to declare some work-related expenses on your tax return. Unfortunately, for many, the amount saved does not exceed what a filer would receive if they claimed the standard deduction. Regardless, here are some work-related expenses that can be applied if a filer itemizes, some of which only apply when a worker is self-employed:

  • Depreciation on a computer or cell phone required for work
  • Union and society dues
  • Job-related education
  • Job-related expenses
  • Legal fees related to maintaining a business
  • Licenses and regulatory fees
  • Occupational taxes and insurance
  • Medical exams required by an employer
  • Passport for business travel
  • Professional journal and magazine subscriptions
  • Work tools and supplies
  • Travel and entertainment expenses for business
  • Clothing and workspace upkeep for business

When is a job not worth the money?

Sure, unemployment claims may be dropping, but if jobs don’t pay better than the unemployment benefits individuals had been receiving, it comes as no surprise that jobs are being turned down, which is exactly what The Detroit News notes happened with increasing regularity in 2011.

[If you have a job, you can apply for payday loans]

Considering that median U.S. household income is down to the lowest level it has been in a decade (under $50,000), as the U.S. Census Bureau has confirmed, and the cost of living has continued to increase, it’s easy to feel as if the train is headed nowhere good for U.S. workers.

College is too expensive, too



Bloomberg Businessweek


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