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?