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I started working at the Driving Park Wegmans as a cashier right after I turned 16 years old.

I couldn’t believe how much out of my first paycheck went to taxes. I was scammed by a quick-change artist. I figured out everyone just wants to be treated with respect. Smiles didn’t hurt. I never argued with a customer. I saw a WIC check for the first time. I watched kids go through separate checkouts with $1 food stamps to buy a 10-cent piece of candy (they had those back then) to get 90 cents back to give to their mom to buy a $2.22 pack of cigarettes (they had those back then, too). If I ever had any doubt, I knew why I had to go to college.

I still know the banana code is 4011.

When I started working the service desk, I hated get stuck on the bottle line. (This was before the days of bottle redemption machines.) Some of the homeless men brought in bottles with cockroaches that got into my hair. The line to hand out food stamps never ended on the first of the month. (This was before the days of EBT cards.) I got to know people who came in to play their lottery numbers – boxed or straight. They had on worker uniforms and didn’t look like they could afford $50 a day.

I remember a lot more than food stamps, bottles and lottery tickets. I liked my coworkers. I liked getting the Wegmans scholarship. I liked talking to customers. I liked feeling busy and helpful. I liked being part of my neighborhood store.

That’s why I was sad to read the teenage job is disappearing. Only 3 out of 10 teenagers has a job, the lowest level since World War II. Kids from poorer homes are less likely to work than affluent homes. The Associated Press reports:

The drop in teen employment, steeper than for other age groups, is partly a cultural shift. More youths are spending summer months in school, at music or learning camps or in other activities geared for college. But the decline is especially troubling for teens for whom college may be out of reach, leaving them increasingly idle and with few options to earn wages and job experience.

Older workers, immigrants and debt-laden college graduates are taking away lower-skill work as they struggle to find their own jobs in the weak economy. Upper-income white teens are three times as likely to have summer jobs as poor black teens, sometimes capitalizing on their parents’ social networks for help.

That’s too bad. Jobs you work as a teenager teach you about responsibility, problem-solving, teamwork, work ethic, customer service, money and most importantly – life.

14 Responses to Everything I Learned About Life I Learned at Wegmans

  1. June 13, 2012 at 6:47 pm James Simons responds:

    I agree that this is really sad. It is all part of the cycle of economic problems we are facing. Good paying middle class jobs are disappearing. Thus college graduates and those who had previously worked good jobs are taking the only jobs being created, call center and related gigs. Those jobs don’t pay enough to live on, let alone feed a family so they must be supplemented by part time jobs like those at Wegmans. My first job was at P&C and I too learned countless lessons there that I carried with me. It will be a shame if that experience disappears.

  2. The number of people competing for low skill, low wage jobs is just another reason to listen to those trying to tell us about the effects of income disparity in this country.

  3. June 13, 2012 at 6:52 pm Lynn E responds:

    I worked at Todd Mart Cinema. I remember Superman playing there, Caddyshack and a Clint Eastwood movie also starring one of his girlfriends at the time. The funniest thing that happened was when someone stole a huge cardboard display of Clint Eastwood on horse that was bucking. No one could figure out how the person got it out the door and out of the theatre without anyone seeing.

  4. My very first job was at the former Hudson Avenue Library, which was across the street from Franklin High School. I was 16-years-old at the time (1966)and the job provided basic skills I needed to interact with the public-at-large. My next job as a teenager was with the former ‘Teens on Patrol’ program with the Rochester Police Department (1967). I got to ride in a patrol car with an officer and learn his daily routine. It taught me respect for the job officers do on a regular basis. I can’t emphasize enough how valuable employment is for teenagers. They learn valuable lessons, both economic and social, as part of the experience.

  5. June 13, 2012 at 7:12 pm Dave McKinley responds:

    Great column, Rachel

  6. June 13, 2012 at 9:39 pm Anne warren responds:

    Oh my gosh, I talk about this all the time with my husband! I have been working since I was 14 years old at Christ the King rectory in Irondequoit. I am now 36 and the only time I wasn’t working is when I was on my 6 well leave for having my daughters! I come from a great home where my father supported us all, but my parents made me to work, so I would appreciate things more. I am so thankful for that lesson, and I wish kids these days would learn the same. It blows my mind seeing all these kids with fancy cell phones and out misbehaving, but do the parents make them work? No! A job at a young age doesn’t just give you money, it really gives you a lesson…

  7. June 13, 2012 at 9:55 pm Edward Richards responds:

    Hard work is something people must learn. It is what life is all about. Bob Wegman instilled, no – demanded such. And Wegmans still does so today. It is how the company remains one of the best places to work and shop in the country.

    I also worked and learned (not everything in life though) at Wegmans. I was a stock clerk on the night shift at the Chili Ave store. Even though I hated it, I also liked it. Even though I hated breaking down the boxes, sorting, sifting, bending down to get to the bottom shelves and so on and so forth, it taught me discipline, hard work and time management. It was a routine, a regimen. It kept me away from doing things I shouldn’t be doing. I liked that.

    There was no greater feeling than having a paycheck all to my own, in my own name. The pride of earning $260+ every week (and having them cash it for you) was great. I miss that. Even as I write this, I am not thinking about time (like I used to) to say, get ready and organize for work or clean my uniform. Because there is no work.

    That’s not good.

    As far as teenagers, the world, the economy, how things are done, everything, is different. I am with them. I don’t know what to make of it. As you get older, life doesn’t get easier. Having real world interactions, learning and earning is what we must not lose sight of. Not the distractions (phones, texting, tv, internet) we see today.

    Being out of the workforce, one develops habits that may be deemed unhealthy. Some which may be hard – if not impossible – to break, especially as you get older. Things like smoking, playing video games, doing drugs etc. Having a job (responsibility) helps prevent that. Having a place you go to that not only pays you, but gets to know you and helps you grow is crucial. It’s something every young person MUST have. If you don’t play a sport, you must work. Many kids do both.

    In all, I am happy to say that I too worked and enjoyed (of sorts) my time at Wegmans. And agree we need to do something to break out of this new age societal cycle where unemployment and lack of opportunities exist.

  8. June 13, 2012 at 10:36 pm RaChaCha responds:

    Love this post! My dad was in the grocery business, so I had experience with early work, as well.

    I’d LOVE to read some of your tweets from those days — do you have them archived–? 😉

  9. June 14, 2012 at 7:20 am Jim Webster responds:

    I’m proud to say that most of the kids in my pretty rural town want to work. The problem is finding work within a reasonable radius.

  10. I’m a too old ex-10th Warder. The Weggies @ the corner of Dewey & Driving Park was the highest grossing Wegmans during the late ’50’s/early ’60’s because of the large working family’s that surrounded it and the constant traffic caused by shift work at the countless factories around it – Kodak Park, Hawkeye, Delco, ROC Products, Honeywell, Great Lakes Paper, Consolidated Vacuum, Dupont Chemical, etc.

    If memory serves me, that Wegmans was the first that went 24/6 or 7 because of the shift business.

    Myself, I spent far too much of my youth sitting caddy-corner to it on the steps of an old Critic’s soda shop watching the traffic coming north up Dewey and into the “S” turn waiting for one to miss the turn. Prolly should have been home studying.

  11. Do not underestimate the effect of minimum wage laws on employment, either. Every state mandated increase in a depressed economy means fewer employees. Teenagers will be the last ones hired because they have less to offer.

  12. I love the shout out to the 4011! Every cashier learns that one first.

  13. Pingback: Fewer Teens Have Jobs » The Rochesterian

  14. Pingback: Wegmans + Fortune 100 = Nonsense » The Rochesterian

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