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.