Should kids have to take a minimum wage job while they’re teens?

The standard argument for having your teenager take a minimum wage job is that he or she learns what the work world is like.  It’s important to show up on time, to be able to work under a boss and with coworkers and so on.  It’s also eye-opening in terms of how much of that first paycheck goes to various taxes and so on.  And it can allow kids to start learning some of their own money management skills in terms of entertainment and clothing, or long-term savings for a car (or even college).  Most importantly, the minimum wage job teaches you that you do not want to have to have a minimum wage job and maybe doing well in school and going to college is the right way to go about things.

These were exactly the reasons that my partner had to work two summers at Hardee’s, and his brother at the new Pizza Hut, and his sister the even newer Wendy’s (though she got fired, so I’m not sure how that worked out lesson-wise).

On the other hand, my parents didn’t want me to take a minimum wage job unless it was the kind that would also build my human capital.  I wasn’t allowed to do summer agricultural work in my early teens like everyone else because my mom said I would pass out (she was probably right– I tended to black out whenever we had to play tennis on the outdoor courts for PE in late Spring).  Instead I spent those summers taking classes at the local community college.  Fast food, they thought, was a waste of time and why would I want to do something unpleasant?  In high school when DH was working at Hardee’s, I was taking the next calculus class at the local university.

The one summer I did work, because I felt like it was one of those things I should experience before college, I got close to minimum wage for a nonprofit survey company doing phone surveys for universities and local governments across the country.

My sister, otoh, had better contacts and better transportation and had a pretty good high school job in a law office in a city 30 min away (the years she wasn’t taking those extra math classes, anyway).  She got to do things like call people to repossess their cars on Christmas Eve.  She enjoyed it.  (I kid you not.  She does a lot of charitable work and donations as an adult but apparently has no mercy for debtors, at least not ones who are getting the fancy cars they couldn’t afford to begin with repossessed.)  Not exactly the kind of job that teaches one to stay in school so as not to have a minimum wage job.

The thing is, in the above examples, I don’t think we were ever on the margin of not going to college.  We didn’t need minimum wage jobs to keep our noses clean.  We were going to college because in my sister’s and my case that was expected, it was going to be our coming of age experience (more fun than high school), and we were really looking forward to it.  In partner’s case, well, at that time in his life he was still doing whatever his mom told him and she picked out a list of colleges to apply to, picked out a major for him, and told him where to go.  (If it had been me, she would have lost that power the first summer I worked at Hardee’s!  Though maybe not… I begged my mom for help on the college decision and, after buying a Fiske guide and that year’s US News and World Reports listing, she said it was my choice and I was almost an adult etc.)

Do you think it’s important for kids to take minimum wage jobs in order to learn the value of education?  Did you work minimum wage in high school?  If so, what kind of lessons did you get from it?

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78 Responses to “Should kids have to take a minimum wage job while they’re teens?”

  1. Alyssa Says:

    I worked a few minimum wage jobs while in high school and during my undergrad. The motivation wasn’t education though – it was just expected that I would go to univeristy – it was more to make my own money and learn how to handle it. I did learn that those jobs are no fun and wanted to get an education so I could get a real job!

  2. Leah Says:

    My jobs in high school weren’t exactly minimum wage. I worked for a little above minimum wage at the local baseball stadium in concessions at first, and then I moved into a commission job doing vending (cotton candy!). I also did home assistance, paid through the state, for a child with autism (read: babysitting). I babysat and tutored plenty too.

    I’m glad I had my jobs. They did teach me about how the world worked. I learned how to get along with folks who were really different than me (my boss at the stadium maybe went to two year college). I do wish I had switched jobs a little more. My mom would always say “you don’t want to turn your back on a good thing” and “don’t burn bridges.” But I worked those jobs all through college, and I really should have been doing other things in college. One summer, I did research at my school, and I wish I had found a way to do research every summer. But my mom is a great capitalist, and I had to be earning money and not just applying for “random” positions.

    The money did come in handy. I saved most of what I made, and I used it to pay some expenses in college (books, and food when I moved into an on-campus apartment). The rest of the money went toward supporting my really expensive semester abroad in Europe. Tuition and a room were cheaper than at my school, but I spent $6k traveling, visiting museums, buying food, and being fabulous.

    short answer: Wish I had done more internships. But otherwise happy I had those jobs. I don’t know that I would have wanted to take summer college classes — my school was really challenging, and the summer was a welcome break from the rigors of curriculum.

  3. Belle Says:

    I didn’t – because transportation to/from a job wasn’t there. You want a lesson? Try a minimum wage job after you’ve been in the workforce for a while at above minimum wage. It’s a real eye-opener and very humbling. In my late 30s, with an MA in hand and more than a decade of work experience, I was unemployed and unemployable: over-educated in a saturated labor market. So I worked minimum wage because not working wasn’t an option: bills are bills.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      That is definitely a good reason to have a huge emergency fund. I was telling my class today that what I really want is the same income, but at Mitt Romney’s tax rate because it’s through dividends instead of earned income. You just need a whole lot of money put away in order to make money.

      But generally when that kind of thing happens it’s because of circumstances that are really beyond a person’s control, like divorce or major industry shut-down etc. Bills are definitely bills. :(

  4. Michelle (@SenseofCents) Says:

    I think kids should work during high school. I worked in high school (and most of the time it was full-time). On resumes it helped a lot as well.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Minimum wage high school jobs only help on some kinds of resumes. They’re generally left off of resumes for professional positions.

      I worked in college, but those jobs were better jobs for resume building than fast food would have been. Even the college jobs are long gone from my cv now.

      • Leigh Says:

        My fast food high school minimum wage job came off my resume by the time I was graduating from college and had internships under my belt. It honestly should have come off after internship #1. It’s just not relevant to my current positions. I also worked in retail when I took a semester off in the middle of college and that was never even put on my resume.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I should also mention that I was work-study in college, so finding jobs at the school in college was not difficult at all for me– my wage was 2/3 subsidized for whatever dept wanted to hire me.

      • Leigh Says:

        Work/study at my school was only for people who got in-state student aid, so since I was from out of state, I couldn’t get those jobs. I didn’t work at all in college other than internships.

      • Cloud Says:

        Work/study at my college was done as part of financial aid, and since I had a full tuition scholarship, I didn’t qualify. I know! Poor me! Boo hoo. But I still had to eat and pay living expenses, so I ended up taking the only non-work/study job I could find, which was at a clearinghouse for theses, which shipped them out to other libraries that requested them. From THAT job I learned that no one reads most PhD theses. It made it much easier not to stress about the writing when it came time to write mine!

  5. feMOMhist Says:

    this was a hot topic in my house growing up as my mom came from nothing and worked from her early teens on while my father was the spoiled darling of his family. The compromise was they gave me some money (enough for gas to from school, what they considered appropriate allowance for clothing), expected my grades to stay up (As w/occasional B allowed to slip in), but allowed/encouraged me to work. I think only one was minimum wage, scooping ice cream when I was 14. After that I tried my hand at file clerk, working in a small book-keeping firm, and finally cosmetics clerk (union job so paid higher than munimum wage). I think I learned things other than “shit I never want to be stuck working for minimum wage” such as responsbility, commitment, collegiality etc as well OMG I’m NEVER working in an office for a living NOT EVER. I made lots of friends at the cosmetics clerk job and generally enjoyed that one the most. Working made me feel independent as well. OTOH where I live now, kids compete with adults for those minumum wage jobs so the point is fairly moot! Still can I find a kid to mow my lawn for $20 (we have a big yard! NO). SMH kids these days tee hee

    • feMOMhist Says:

      forgot to add, I was encouraged to save half my pay checks, but I don’t think I did. I do remember for sure that the $ I saved for the first year of college was gone by Thanksgiving so I got a job then. I always worked as receptionist/assistant/secretary in academic settings while in college and made well over the minimum wage. I learned tons at those jobs, and I mean shit I still draw on today, about how to navigate bureaucracy, academic politics, etc as well as organizational skills, grant writing, budgeting etc. Most valuable work experience of my life is still the 5+ years I spent as academic secretary to med school prof

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Do you think you would have gotten responsibility, commitment etc. without having worked at those jobs?

      The summer I worked my entire paycheck went to fix the door of the neighbor’s car that I accidentally backed into. (That was an entirely different lesson for me to learn…mainly about never getting the accelerator mixed up with the brake…)

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  7. Perpetua Says:

    We were expected to get jobs starting the summer after our junior year of high school. (Earlier than this, I did babysitting, but got an allowance.) The implication was that the gravey train was coming to an end, and we were going to have to supply our own spending money. There was also an idea that college was coming up and we’d need more money for that. (My parents paid our tuition, room, and board though there were limits on what they would pay; we gradually paid for all our books and all spending money while at college. No allowances. All my parents’ money was paid directly to the university.) It was part of being introduced to adulthood – adults work, they manage their money, they save for things they want, they do not expect other people to provide everything for them. I do think that this type of experience prepares you for life as a responsible adult. Also teaching adolescents that with adulthood comes not only privilege but responsibilty is an important one. You get to drive and stay up late, yes, but you also have to be at work or get fired.

  8. First Gen American Says:

    My husband and I both worked all through high school and college. Our children will have a job in high school if they want any kind of decent spending money. I think the distinction is that my upbringing was working class blue collar and so was my husband’s, so working was not only a necessity, but the college focus was never there in the forefront of our lives. College was not something that was expected or encouraged. Instead, college became a means to getting out of the minimum wage jobs we were in. If you were taking college classes in high school, well, there was a good chance you were going to go anyway because higher education was a big part of your family’s value system.

    Although the jobs were eye opening (ie..I HAVE to earn more to have a good life), I think the other benefit is being able to make stupid mistakes in jobs that really had no bearing on my career. I remember talking about my raise openly at work when I was 15. I had no idea these things were to be kept private and could cause conflict because not everyone got the same bump in salary. My boss scolded me and I learned a lesson, and I’m so glad I learned that when I was 15 and not 23.

  9. Liz Says:

    I’m a huge fan of students working summer jobs when they are in high school or college.

    Working teaches skills of the work world (money management, intro to income tax, resume/interview skills) and important life skills (handling bosses/coworkers, character building/skin toughening, interacting with groups of people you might not otherwise have the opportunity to interact with). Also, as one of the above commenters mentioned, it gives to something non-academic to put on a resume which obviously won’t be relevant throughout your career, but very well may be relevant for getting that first internship position (based on my experience hiring for internships) and that internship experience will get you your first professional job, so I wouldn’t discount the experience that is gained from a high school job.

    However, I don’t really understand the idea of working a “crappy” minimum wage job just so one is motivated to to get an education so they don’t have to keep working a “crappy” job. I guess that there was never any doubt that I would be going to university so this wasn’t really on my radar is a teen. Instead, jobs in high school can teach you to put the effort into finding the best job you can based on your skills and experience. Yes, that may be McDonalds for the first summer or two, but even one year of customer service/cash handling can allow you to get a slightly “less crappy” job the next year, and this is a very important lesson I think. There are also many skilled jobs available to high school students (although with the caveat that these are often based on skills gained as a kid that you would have to have some sort of privilege to gain in the first place – but this conversation seems to be geared towards middle class folks anyway). I worked as a lifeguard and a soccer ref while in high school, which were both fabulous job that taught be valuable life skills. Basically my point is that a high school job doesn’t have to equate to a miserable/useless experience.

    • Liz Says:

      I think my last paragraph sounds a little jerkish so I will rephrase to say that in many cases I do think there is value in working a minimum wage job in order to understand the importance of an eduction but, even if higher education is expected by the parents/teen, there is a lot of other value that comes from working.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Those Ref jobs etc. generally only went to people whose parents had connections (teachers kids, generally).

      I actually think that the high school summer job teaches the opposite from money management– in my experience the folks with the summer jobs were flush with money and spent it hand over fist. I don’t think the learning came until they were no longer living with their parents, well outside of high school, and there are some spectacular crash and burn stories. (That is, of course, not counting the friends I had who were working to supplement the family’s income or who were vocational track and on the work program.)

      Heck, even the college summer job didn’t teach my partner a thing about money management– he would just spend it all until it was gone.

      • bogart Says:

        The ref jobs thing definitely isn’t true in our area — there is plenty of demand for these skill sets, and paid jobs for the teen crowd in possession of them. Mind you, we have pretty decent infrastructure, in the sense of multiple public and non-profit youth sports organizations. There are, for example, 3 large different non-profit youth-to-adult soccer groups in my county, each with its own teams, coaches, and schedules (ranging from “very casual” to “more competitive;” I’m not sure all include adult play, but the one we’re involved with does); others in adjacent counties, and a number of town rec-league opportunities as well.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        My sister was able to get a better job because she had transportation and connections to an actual city 30 min away. Non-fast-food jobs were short in my home town! (Also there was a college student population crowding out the high schoolers.)

  10. mom2boy Says:

    I don’t think having a minimum wage job in high school teaches the importance of education on its own. I had a minimum wage job in high school. It taught me that, if I needed to, I’d always be able to get a (minimum wage) job. There are grocery stores everywhere.
    I always knew I’d be going to college. In my family and my group of high school friends, everyone assumed and prepped for college after high school. I had a job to help finance the cost of my teenage lifestyle (clothes beyond the necessary, movies, etc.) Also, I never paid any attention to the taxes taken out of my paycheck until my first full-time job after college.

  11. SP Says:

    I did, mostly because that is what everyone did. When I was young I did a lot of summer classes, camps, etc. In high school, no one seemed to be doing that stuff (unless they were in summer school for failing). I worked part time and never made much, and always had time for friends or whatever else was on the summer schedule. Like going to Germany for a month on a school trip… so it wasn’t too serius of a responsibility to have a job. Yeah, I learned how to show up on time and such, but… I think i knew how to do that already!

    My husband not only worked in the summers, but he worked a factory job and worked long hours and actually made significant amounts of money for a 17/18 year old. (I didn’t know him then.) He learned that it probably wasn’t worth it to be a workaholic. I don’t think I ever had more than a couple hundred in my bank account.

    i think kids my kids should do something in the summers. I would be OK with them taking a class or some other activities. Or they can get a job. They don’t need to be working 40 hr weeks, but they should do something in the ballpark of “worthwhile” with their time.

    Note I did refuse to do fast food. Grocery store casheir, retail, and ultimately waitressing (in college), not counting jobs more specific to my major.

  12. becca Says:

    I do not grok discussions about teenagers from the parent’s perspective yet. My kid either isn’t old enough, or I have such a radically different attitude that what other people say just does not compute.
    I do not agree with any rationale for why a teen would “have” to take a minimum wage job that does not match why an adult would “have” to take one (i.e. if they need the money and can’t find something better to do, of course they “have” to take such a job).
    But why would a parent try to force/coerce a teen into anything like that? Can you even, really? I mean you can incentivize it. You can give them an intentionally limited allowance or not give them everything they want, but I seriously cannot imagine being in a financial position where I’d want to give my kid unlimited anything anyway. You can also say you’ll match whatever they save (either for a big purchase that you can support- like a car, or for college), which I hope to be able to do for my kid. But beyond that? It just strikes me as a recipe for teen / parent angst.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Maybe it’s the Catholic upbringing, but generally I did what my parents told me to. (Though my mom was good at asking if I wanted to do choice A or choice B… my kid figured that trick out by age 3… it took me well into my teen years to realize that maybe “neither” was an option.)

      • becca Says:

        By the time I was a teenager, I think my parents had generally stopped telling me what to do. They suggested things, which I took into account (but often only acted on some time later).
        I never really grokked how odd their approach was until I started parenting. It’s hard to trust kids to make good choices. And it’s darn near impossible to trust kids to make the choices you would. I suspect as long as you remember to take joy in what your kid *is*, there is a lot of wiggle room in the appropriate amount of molding-type of pressure to exert. At least, I hope so.

        My Dad spent a lot of time talking about good marketable skills (though he had a dated ideas of such, e.g. I’ve never needed to type 90 wpm), but he wasn’t too concerned with what I did with them- he just wanted me to know I had non-fast food options, with or without college. And he warned me that science required the ‘wizard’s license’/PhD. My parents always gave the impression they genuinely would have been equally pleased had I not gone to college at all, but had finagled a way to not starve and do art (my first love).

  13. bogart Says:

    I have yet to work a conventional minimum wage job. My college roommate’s mom said everyone should “have to” work the following roles: commissioned salesperson, wait staff and … something else, the point being that doing so would make us reasonable and empathetic to others in those roles, and I made the note to self: Never do that.

    I got my first paid job at 10 delivering a local weekly paper, and did that through most of my early adolescence; I walked or biked the route, and made about $30 per month, of which I saved $10. I worked lots on horse farms as a teen, everything from mucking/feeding to riding to teaching lessons; the mucking/feeding approximated minimum wage, the riding paid better, and the teaching paid great (by HS standards). Of course I then spent all the money on my own horse and riding activities. I spent two summers (sophomore and junior of HS) as a working student on a working farm, earning my and my horse’s board and some lessons. This was a great experience mostly because it convinced me I did not want to do horses professionally, which I had thought to that point I did (too little financial security, by far; too much invested in outcomes, like winning, that “should” have been just for fun).

    It was probably a foregone conclusion that I would go to college as that was simply what kids in my locale and social class did. So I did, having worked out that I didn’t, actually, want to go work on a horse farm. Through college I rode/worked on farms for money, as needed to earn spending money (my mom, plus what seemed like reasonable loans — about $10K in total by the time I graduated — paid my tuition & living expenses and I was totally committed to my studies as I was horrified to think we might otherwise be spending $7K per year on tuition and not fully benefiting from that vast expenditure.).

    I did finish up a semester early and then while waiting to start grad school, went to work for a builder, earning a pittance and learning a good bit about how things are put together. If you need sheetrock hung, pipes sweated, tile laid, or an programmable thermostat installed, I can do it. That was really fun and tremendously educational, not only because I was learning skills about which I knew nothing, but because I got to watch him think through how to build something and realized a lot of things are problems one (I) can just think through and solve. Up until that point I had pretty much been of the “one right way” school of learning (the horsey group of which I was a part very much took this approach), so this was a new and valuable approach.

    Between academic jobs I did in summer 2000 work as a census enumerator, which was interesting and difficult (finding places and people and talking to them).

    My brother worked as a musician in high school, earning really huge sums (by high school standards) for what was basically no work, and probably setting him on a bad money management path (for awhile).

    Both my stepkids worked minimum wage (food service) jobs briefly in high school, and probably both learned some stuff but I don’t think it changed their lives for the better (and like me, they went to college because it is what one does). One has been a great money manager from day one but was a lousy student despite being very bright. The other was a truly lousy money manager for a long time (now better!) but a wonderful student (and also very bright, but also organized and motivated in a way that SK1 is not).

    All that said, I do think kids should be given incentive structures that promote their learning to manage money before the age of 18, and (based on experience with stepkids) that the skills they are taught should include learning how to use — and how not to use — a credit card.

    • bogart Says:

      Also, upon reflection, a number of DH’s extended family’s current late teen/young adult generation seem to have taken minimum-wage-like jobs and then stuck with them (instead of going to college) because they value the money more than the education (i.e. they “cannot afford” to stop working to go to college. I suspect there is some truth in that (limited opportunities, no savings, and limited family support to pursue higher ed.), and also some untruth if they assessed the likely long-term implications of their decisions with anything approximating accuracy).

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I did an unpaid internship in high school that taught me I didn’t want to go into biology! That was definitely valuable. But not a minimum wage job. My long-term (unpaid) volunteer experiences in high school were also valuable to me in many ways.

  14. Linda Says:

    Like FGA, I came from a blue collar background. Getting a job as soon as you were old enough to work was expected. As a child I made money weeding the neighbor’s yard. When I was a pre-teen I started taking babysitting jobs. Money earned was money I could use as I saw fit: to buy records, penny candy, go to movies, buy clothing that my parents refused to pay for such as name-brand jeans, etc.

    When I was 15 and old enough for a work permit I got my first “real” job: as a receptionist at a local animal clinic. I applied at several animal clinics for whatever open positions they had because I was interested in going to veterinary school. (I changed my mind after working in a clinic for a year, so I guess I learned a valuable lesson!) Until I was old enough to get a drivers license I cobbled together rides to and from work (unfortunately there was no bus service in the suburb where I grew up), but as soon as I got my license I drove myself. (My parents did supply me with my first “beater” car when I started driving, so that was helpful.)

    Working was not about “life lessons,” it was about basic survival. We knew that we were always going to have to work and that the money we made supplemented and defrayed the living expenses supplied by my parents.

    I had a small sum of money in a savings account that my grandfather had given me for college or marriage or whatever. Whatever I added to it from my own earnings was the only support I would get from my family for college expenses. I decided I wanted to pursue a college degree; it wasn’t expected or not that I would go to college. I paid for college myself through savings, grants, student loans, and money earned while working part time throughout my college years.

    The crappiest job I had was working as a cashier at a 24-hour gas station/convenience store near a major expressway. There were days I worked 14 hour shifts — standing the entire time — with maybe a 15 minute break. I was repeatedly subjected to lie detector tests. And there were a couple times I had to work by myself during the graveyard shift. I don’t know how that employer (a national chain) was able to get away with such practices as it seems like many of them broke basic employment and safety laws. When I saw that the other workers just put up with it because this was the best job they thought they could get, I knew that getting my degree and applying for a professional job was the right path for me. I actually quit that job when they asked me to take yet another lie detector test. After a test where I was repeatedly accused of lying by the tester and told I should just confess to stealing the $50 that was missing from a cash drawer I had worked on with several others, I told the manager that if they ever asked me to take another one of those tests I would quit. A few months later when it was announced that everyone had to take another test because some cigarettes were missing from inventory, I just walked out.

  15. mareserinitatis Says:

    I got my first job working in fast food when I was 15. I was expected to buy my own clothes and gas from there on out. On the other hand, my family was dirt poor, so it’s not like my parents could really afford to give me any money. Two years later (middle of my senior year of high school), I got a job as a police dispatcher for the university police. Totally loved that job because I usually had a lot of time to study. I hated working fast food with a passion, and one of the best things I learned was that if you hate your job, start looking for another. But for me, yes, it was important to solidify that getting a college degree was important (I am the only one who has one in my family)…but also that it’s necessary to work. I just realized that there are some things I’m not good at.

    My mom was of the opinion that one should find a new job every year of high school. One year in fast food, one year in retail, and one year in an office. A variety of experience actually is good. Helps you to realize that sometimes the reason you’re unhappy with your work is just because your skills aren’t a good fit. And yes, it really is motivation for college. When I was at my most unhappy, the thought of going back to the crap I dealt with at fast food made the worst moments in college seem far easier to endure.

  16. Leigh Says:

    I worked in fast food in high school for minimum wage. I didn’t work a lot of hours (maybe 16 hours or so a week) since I was busy with school and I worked almost full-time hours the summer after high school, before going to college. I didn’t make very much money, so I didn’t really see any taxes taken off.

    My parents gave me a pretty good allowance, but having the job gave me some more savings. I saved 80% of my net income from that job. So basically my allowance was my spending money and my income was my savings.

    Like you, at the point that I was working in fast food, I was most definitely going to college. I’d already pretty much decided where I was going to college when I started working minimum wage! I also didn’t need to use my income to pay for college or I probably would have worked more hours, at the detriment of school. There weren’t really any extra math programs that I could do in the summers, so working wasn’t a bad option.

    I think that having a minimum wage job helps kids to have their own spending money and to learn how to manage their money. It certainly helped me, though my sibling was always running out of money regardless…

    • Leigh Says:

      Oh and I pretty much hated the job. Everyone else there except for the full-timers were a bunch of crackheads working to get money to pay for their drug or drinking habit that their parents wouldn’t support. Well, except for two of the managers who were working there while going to college to help pay their way.

    • Leigh Says:

      Oh and I also tutored quite a bit, which was lucrative at $10/hour (higher than minimum wage!) but not very frequent.

  17. Cloud Says:

    I worked at an ice cream shop, at a newspaper, and at a movie theater. Like many of the others, there was never any question in my mind that I was going to college, so I don’t think the crappiness of those jobs was a motivating factor. However, one thing it did help me learn- to treat the people in the crappy jobs with respect and courtesy. I got an unbelievable amount of abuse, particularly at the movie theater. People would tell me how to count out change. They would yell at me for how much the popcorn cost. They would drop their used paper towels on the floor right in front of me when I was in cleaning up the bathrooms.

    I’m sure there are other ways to learn not to be an asshole to the people working behind counters, etc. My husband, for instance, never worked a job like that and he is not an asshole at movie theaters. But a little first hand experience sure goes a long way, too.

  18. oilandgarlic Says:

    I didn’t work during high school. I was expected to study and focus on school, or volunteer. I did work during college. Believe me, there is plenty of time to learn about minimum wage jobs (humility, hard work, managing money). I think people should look at 2 factors : 1) personality of the kid (I was definitely not the type who could handle school and work) and 2) motivation (I was definitely aiming for college and did not need the minimum wage push). Plus I’m glad my parents let me enjoy my free time to just do kid/teenage stuff.

  19. MyMoneyDesign.com Says:

    I say yes. There is so much intangible stuff I learned while working at a minimum wage job as a teenager. Most of them you’ve already addressed, but the most important – knowing that if I screwed up, this is what I’d have to come back to! I didn’t want that!

  20. Michelle Says:

    I actually really enjoyed my minimum wage job. I worked at a grocery store as a cashier, but for most of the time I worked in the cash office doing things like scheduling, counting money, balancing cash flow, keeping accounting books updated, supervising the other cashiers, (dealing with crazy customers, mitigating petty quarrels between middle-aged co-workers), flirting with the stock boys…) etc. It was a lot of responsibility for a 15-18 year old… and I thought counting money was just fun (kind of like how I find cooking fun/therapeutic). Prior to that job, I delivered newspapers and babysat. So I was lucky. I assume any type of administrative-type job with moderate responsibility is actually a good experience for bright high school kids. Or a job like camp counselor or some other fun outdoorsy job. Really, there are a probably a bunch of reasonable jobs beyond flipping burgers (probably not fun for more than a few months). My partner spent his summers building houses… which was a great (and very legitimate) experience for him.

    The biggest reason I worked was to *actually make money*… yeah, I learned some lessons… but making it about learning lessons kind of trivializes the fact that that earned money was actually very valuable. I saved 80%+ of what I earned (I spent the rest on clothes and outings with friends… oh yeah, and tons of CDs… I really don’t know how people spend their entire pay cheques) and was able to pay for a chunk of my undergraduate education this way, and not have my parents pay for anything for me beyond lodging and food (and medical/dental insurance, glasses, car insurance – they let us borrow the car) after the age of about 13. I worked 25-30 hours per week, but I still had plenty of time to ace my classes (and get scholarships), and play sports and be in several school groups, help around the house, spend time with my friends/boyfriend, and get up to no good. I didn’t have much time to volunteer (or perhaps, didn’t make it a priority). My parents actually couldn’t afford to help me with school, so the $10-$15 K was important money to have saved…

    I think my parents did such a good job teaching me independence, responsibility, and money management (/appreciation) skills that I don’t know whether I would have needed to work these jobs to learn these lessons. But they did help build character, and I developed a major sense of pride to know I was responsible for so much of my own life.

    I do think working in high school was a very important experience for me. I can be open minded and imagine that these experiences were not required to shape me into the person I am. However, I will say that I know few people who came from more well off families than I (and therefore did not have to work from a youngish age) who had the same sense of responsibility and independence in college (or grad school, or later!) I think it takes a pretty special upbringing to instill some of these values.

  21. Quail Says:

    Coming out of lurkerdom to comment on one of my favorite topics of all time!

    I have two positions on this topic: personal and (armchair) public policy. Personally, I started working as soon as I could drive: bagel store, hotel front desk, hostess at chain restaurant, working full time in the summers and on Sundays during the school year. This was in the late 1990s.Where I lived in the suburbs, lots of kids had jobs even though their parents were upper middle class. My father saw this as a motivation-for-college and money-management trick, which worked to some extent. When you start to see a $60 pair of shoes as 10 hours of work, it changes how you spend your money. In addition to my minimum wage earnings, I received a $20 allowance a week. I paid for all of my own clothing, gas, car insurance, entertainment, Christmas presents for others, etc.

    Benefits: working for/with adults you don’t know, prioritizing activities like a soccer game vs scheduled shift at work, value of time vs money, better understanding of min wage work and how sucky it is. Drawbacks: stress over scheduling, no real value added to resume once in college. Did it help with financial savvy as an adult? Not really because I had no idea how much it cost to actually live (mortgage costs, grocery bills, etc) because my family was very tight-lipped about those subjects. I could have learned that lesson with a real-life budget and spreadsheet of income and expenses.

    My public policy argument is that high schoolers of upper class families (like mine) should not be allowed to be claimed as dependents if they earn a wage. My family did not need my income and my job could have gone to someone who needed it more. All the jobs came with benefits for full time employees that I did not use. If pressed, my father got more out of me as a tax deduction than from my subsidizing my own teenager costs, and wouldn’t have let me take an over-the-table W2 job if it hurt his bottom line, which would have freed up a bunch of jobs in my town for those who weren’t young, perky, no-benefits white kids.

    The other thing is that among my peers many of the wealthiest kids got unpaid internships both in high school and in college. My parents NEVER let me do this because I was “supposed to” earn spending money for college in the summers, so I worked as a collection agent (before becoming a research assistant and getting sucked into academia.) That has not helped me one bit in my professional career, while kids who could intern for free got connections and big jobs after college graduation. My spouse was a business major who worked as a bike mechanic during the summers to save for living expenses during the year and lost out on jobs to kids whose parents subsidized their kids summer internships.

    On the other hand, I don’t ever have to pay for bike repairs, and spouse can always work out of the basement for extra cash. So maybe practical, skill-based jobs are the happy medium.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I definitely got a lot more out of the unpaid opportunities I had than the paid things. My parents were always looking to our future and using our time wisely was the main focus, even if it meant a ton of scrimping and saving. That lesson may have been the important one about the value of education– that it was more worthwhile to go without all of the stuff of being a teenager (name-brand clothes, albums, VHS, microwave etc.) than to choose a fast food job over a math class at the local CC or state uni, or volunteering so that those less privileged than myself could get better educations (I did summers in high school volunteering with an educational program for migrant workers’ children).

      • mom2boy Says:

        I don’t know a soul in my family that did volunteer work unless you count my aunt’s junior league activities but those were so far removed from my life I’m only aware of it from snippets of Thanksgiving conversations. I definitely worked to buy stuff other kids my age had. No one said get a job but then again no one said not to. No one ever suggested additional educational courses outside the required to graduate curriculum. No one talked about my future other than I’d get to college (somewhere it didn’t matter where) and figure it out. Nurture can definitely influence a direction and tone for life beyond nature.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Yes, we were a bit odd (that’s kind of an understatement). But that’s ok, by high school I was pretty used to being odd.

        Re: the volunteer work, that actually started because my high school had a pretty sizable volunteer requirement. But I kept at it because it was so rewarding.

      • Quail Says:

        I think that’s the approach I’ll take with my children – the quality of the opportunity rather than a hard and fast rule about earning money for the sake of earning money. (For what it’s worth, my dad hated his white-collar job and we all knew it. I think he thought all work was miserable so you might as well get paid.) The idea of volunteering, charity, or voluntary education in place of earning money was not encouraged. And really, for us, it wasn’t about the stuff – I mostly spent my money on gas and car insurance, expenses my family could have easily covered but for teaching us the lesson about money. There was some fear about “spoiling” us through handouts that worked against subsidizing volunteering or additional education – a lesson I didn’t really need and now resent. So, even though we’ll likely make less money than my family of origin, I plan to take an approach more like your family than mine with any future children.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I didn’t get my driver’s license until really late… so that’s a lot of regular teenage expenses gone. Note: entire summer earnings went to pay for minor accident to neighbor’s car. (And when I did get my license, it was because my mother was chomping at the bit for me to take over chauffeuring duties for my sister!)

  22. bogart Says:

    Somewhat off topic, but not as much as the cheese: I serve on a committee at the university where I work that screens candidates for one of the scholarships we offer (a combination of merit and need). I was scandalized this year when the admissions officer commented, in our pre-screening prep meeting, that the (the admissions folks) only consider giving applicants the top rating available if said applicants have taken (or will have taken) at least 10 AP courses. Ten. It’s a select group within a select group, but the applications I read have kids going from their volunteer work organizing a peer-to-peer tutoring program (that they conceived, developed, and raised funds to implement) at the HIV clinic to their role as first violin in the state orchestra (I’m exaggerating, but not by much — and not at all, in the case of the HIV clinic bit).

    It is literally true that several years ago I sat and discussed whether someone who had fled an authoritarian regime — I’ll decline to mention which one, this being the internet and all that — solo, as a young teen — literally, walked his way to freedom and out of that regime — was or was not “good enough” to merit being brought to campus for an interview (the next step in the screening process for this scholarship), as his test scores were slightly subpar. I think we decided yes, but I honestly don’t remember. I’m not saying that that action necessarily qualified him for admission (or a scholarship), but there was some irony in my debating whether someone who’d done something I likely never could/would, was “worthy.”

    All of which is to say that I’m guessing that for kids seeking application to this, or similar, schools, minimum-wage (or other) jobs are a serious impediment to the resume-building they need to do to gain admission. OTOH, I don’t in fact think that kids necessarily benefit from coming here, relative to other decent-to-good educational institutions (not that it’s a bad place to get a BA, I’m just not sure that it’s “better.”).

  23. Candi @ min hus Says:

    Should a teenager be required to get a job? I think it depends on the kid. If a kid is involved in sports, taking extra classes and other activities, those are probably more beneficial than working a minimum wage job. I worked a McD’s in high school. I wasn’t required to per se, but I was required to pay my insurance and gas if I wanted my own car, so I needed the money. I was raised with the expectation that I was going to college, but even so that job helped reinforce that that wasn’t were I wanted to be for the rest of my life. I also think it helps teach people lessons about patience with people in those positions, why it’s important to tip servers provided they earned it, etc. I see lots of people who haven’t learned these lessons on their own.

    I supervise work study students now and I can definitely tell which ones never had a minimum wage or other crappy job and I wish they had. Showing up late, being irresponsible, falsifying time sheets, these are all things I would have hoped people outgrew by college.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Oh, I get plenty of applicants (and sadly, sometimes employees) who had a crappy job who are irresponsible and etc. (I’ve gotten much better about not actually hiring people who show up late for an interview.) And plenty who are responsible and never had a service industry job. Some folks are just obnoxious.

  24. femmefrugality Says:

    I think it depends on the kid. If they’ve got poor money management skills, I’d encourage them to get a job. If they’ve got poor grades, I’d discourage them from entering the workforce until they can get their academic stuff straight. If they’re good on all counts, I’d leave it up to them. We only get to be kids for so long. But if they’re itching for extra spending money or want to save up for a car, more power to them.

  25. Foscavista Says:

    “I was taking the next calculus class at the local university” – Are we related? I did the same thing one summer while I was in high school.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      It’s uncommon but not *that* uncommon if you live in a college town, especially when faculty and staff brats get steep discounts (and the university is the main employer in town). A good way to get gen-eds out before going to the flagship state uni or another school.

      Also: Math is AWESOME!

      • Foscavista Says:

        Yes, math is awesome. I still amaze my science colleagues with my strong science and math background. How many Humanities PhDs can recite the Laws of Thermodynamics?

  26. chacha1 Says:

    I wasn’t expected, much less required, to work during high school. My very first job was as a file clerk in the brokerage office where my Dad worked. I liked the office atmosphere and learned that I am really, really good at organizing stuff; also that most people are pigs. The office microwave had stalagmites. … That job came before I could drive and it was mostly because the brokerage had just been acquired and they needed to switch over their filing system ASAP.

    My first three years of college I lived at home (I started during my last year of high school, on early admission). I worked at Pizza Hut and Dairy Queen, both of which jobs sucked but for different reasons, and my third year I had an assistantship at the college. None of these jobs paid enough to teach me any lessons about money management, and going to college had been a foregone conclusion so they had no effect on my motivation.

    I don’t think I learned any useful life lessons from any job except the first office job. Food service is not where a person should go if s/he wants to learn useful life lessons! If s/he wants to learn to hate people, then yeah.

    My senior year I was wrapping up two minors as well as my major and trying to get top scores on the GMAT and GREs. Mom & Dad paid for an apartment right off campus, saying they wanted to re-do my room at home. I was still working at Dairy Queen through at least a good chunk of that year as I recall. Mostly for mad money and free ice cream.

  27. Bek Says:

    Any of the experiences people have mentioned – paid or unpaid – can contribute to kids learning important life lessons. I did casual work at various places during high school – KFC, cafes and whatnot – as well as tutoring, research work and volunteer stuff, but I think one of the most important lessons I learned came from working in a cafe on a fruit farm. It was also a pick-your-own farm, and someone had clearly eaten too many cherries – so when it came time to clean the toilets (normally an ok job), there was diarrhoea all over the floor, toilet, walls… everywhere. And there was no one else to deal with it, apart from me. That’s when I learned that sometimes, you have to take responsibility for shit (literal or figurative) that is not your fault. I think it’s the day I became an adult! It definitely affected the way I approached unpleasant tasks in future jobs (nothing in my current role could ever be as bad as that!) and I’m not sure too many other jobs could have forced me to confront that truth quite so… memorably.

  28. oilandgarlic Says:

    You know I think that one reason a real job is more of a learning experience than volunteering or internships is that if you’re paid, you’re expected to do more drudge work. This may help reduce sense of entitlement and set up more realistic job expectations, which is a good and important thing to get either at high school or college before landing your first “real” job!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I haven’t really noticed a negative correlation between having had a minimum wage job and sense of entitlement among my students. They seem to be able to compartmentalize those aspects of their life.

      I’m not sure that it is important to set up “realistic” expectations before the expectations are realized. Perhaps the time to learn unpleasant things is when the unpleasant things actually occur.

  29. jacqjolie Says:

    I picked grass for 5 cents per 5 gallon pail, picked bottles out of ditches and babysat for $1/hour. But the money went to the bank which I didn’t have access to until I graduated high school. Everything else was done for free since it was a family operation. Well, the boys did get paid even though I shoveled shit and picked rocks right along side them, so maybe not entirely egalitarian.
    My oldest son got a job in high school because he wanted to with no pressure from me. I think he likes feeling independent and self sustaining. It was good because he got to manage people from a very young age and got over his shyness and fear of confrontation by having to deal with that 1% of customers that were pure d!cks.
    My opinion is that anything that exposes you to a few more life experiences (people aren’t always nice and your mother doesn’t work here) is a good thing and better than hanging outside the 7-11 or watching TV at home. If that’s playing sports, then great. If it’s reading books, that’s ok too. And if it’s working, that’s also good.

  30. Anandi Raman Creath (@anandi) Says:

    Interesting! I haven’t thought much about this since BabyT is way too little. I did work minimum wage, fast food, and was so freakin’ proud when I had enough money to buy the freakin’ $80 Sony Sports walkman tape player/radio I had been coveting :)

    But no, it didn’t teach me money management (it was all spending money and I didn’t even have a bank account), nor did it gain me any useful life experience, except that I never ate at that place again, I was so sick of it. I guess it gave me a feeling of a little bit of independence, but that’s about it.

    As soon as I got to college, I was lucky to find lots of interesting campus jobs (events usher, barista, house dinner waiter, mail sorting – my fave, babysitting profs’ kids) to earn a bit of spending cash without taxing my academic schedule too much. But summers from freshman year on were reserved for paid research internships, which by far made up for my crappy GPA and got me into top tier graduate schools I never would have gotten into with just the grades. So I am a HUGE fan of finding relevant experience once you get into college. I’d discourage anyone from taking non-relevant work unless they really, truly, couldn’t find *anything* relevant that is either paid or earns them more academic credit.

    Obviously some people just need the $ so that’s not feasible.

  31. ecogeofemme Says:

    I liked working in high school because it gave me a sense of power. I had money to buy things without asking. My mom has always operated on a very strict budget. Having my own money eased the shame of wanting to spend money on things that she didn’t think were worth it. And I could save for big ticket items my parents couldn’t afford, like a fancy flute.

    I was always college bound, but I think I did get value out of those jobs. Mostly a better sense of empthay for the realities of life for many Americans and the realization that my money will disappear fast if I’m not cognizant of how I’m spending it. Getting paid in cash everyday as a server (tips) made it too easy to finish the summer with not much in the bank.

  32. Carnival of Personal Finance #358: Anzac edition | Musings of an Abstract Aucklander Says:

    [...] Should kids have to take a minimum wage job when they’re teens? Nicole, Maggie, and the grumpy readership weigh in on whether grunt work is worth it. (My general feeling is that unless they’re genuinely tied up with other things – Olympic training, practising for a performance at Carnegie Hall, prepping for early entry to uni or other pursuits at that level, why not?) [...]

  33. Carnival of Personal Finance #358 Says:

    [...] Nicole and Maggie: Should kids have to take a minimum wage job when they’re teens? [...]

  34. Bits & Pieces 4/25/12 Says:

    [...] Should kids have to take a minimum wage job when they’re teens? I say yes. I know too many people that get to the age of 22 or older without having worked at all. It’s pathetic really. I think as soon as kids turn 16 they should get a job. I did. [...]

  35. The Simple Dollar Weekly Roundup: Live Baseball Edition | The Simple Dollar Says:

    [...] Should kids have to take a minimum wage job while they’re teens? It depends entirely on the teenager. If someone is president of the student council and is involved in three sports and six other clubs, I don’t think it’s a good idea to push a job on top of that. (@ nicole and maggie) [...]

  36. Geoff Says:

    Younger people don’t usually have the same financial responsibilities as older ones. Having said that, I don’t think anyone should be used as slave labor, so a fair wage should be given for the work they do.

  37. Carnival of Personal Finance #358: Anzac edition | NZ Muse Says:

    [...] Should kids have to take a minimum wage job when they’re teens? Nicole, Maggie, and the grumpy readership weigh in on whether grunt work is worth it. (My general feeling is that unless they’re genuinely tied up with other things – Olympic training, practising for a performance at Carnegie Hall, prepping for early entry to uni or other pursuits at that level, why not?) [...]


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