We all know that people who work minimum wage almost always get the shaft. Either from low income, no sick days, or companies sending jobs overseas because someone in Laos will work for 10 cents an hour, employees who work in low wage jobs face more struggles than those with higher earning potential. As my daughter grows and gets more curious about the word, I am finding myself having to answer a harder and broader range of questions. Recently, I’ve had to explain what the tampon machine in the public restroom was for, and I’ve had to offer comments on many a tattoo we’ve unfortunately seen in the swimming pool locker room. However, I was a bit stumped last week when she asked me if being a cashier at the grocery store was a good job. How do you tell your kid a minimum wage job is a bad idea?
Blue Collar Roots
My first knee jerk reaction when she asked about the cashier job was to say “NOOOOOO Way!” but am I being a snob? My Mom worked as a grocery store cashier for years when I was a kid. I know it caused her all sorts of back problems and child care arrangement nightmares, but it was an honest, hard working job. We all need to eat, and for most of us that requires grocery stores with employees.
I know my Mom was proud of her job at the grocery store, but she used every opportunity to tell my sister and I to go to college. She always regretted not having a marketable skill to fall back on if something were to happen to my Dad. Luckily, she never had to support us on her own, but I know it worried her because her earning potential was minimal.
College Isn’t For Everyone But You Still Need Skills
With the present amount of student loan debt in the US over a trillion dollars, it’s easy to understand why some people just want to get a job instead of racking up debt that might or might not amount to a brighter future. Since Jim and I both went to college, I think it’s a natural path for our daughter, but I certainly wouldn’t recommend attending college without some sort of plan for how you intend to make your degree marketable. I know that flies in the face of doing what makes you happy, but having a crushing amount of student loan debt without a high paying job certainly wouldn’t make anyone happy.
I think there are lots of well paying career options that don’t require a college degree. You can look around the blogosphere to confirm that, but the people who can become entrepreneurs share certain characteristics. They are smart, organized, willing to hustle, able to multi-task, and think outside the box. They also have the stamina and courage to walk away from traditional ways of earning income after making sure a proper safety net of emergency savings in in place. Not everyone has those capabilities or chooses to use them, and a low wage job might be all they can hope for.
What Did I Tell My Daughter About Being a Store Clerk?
What I finally told my daughter was that being a grocery clerk was a hard working job and there was nothing wrong with that. I also told her that I worked as a clerk at a convenience store during college and at some other crappy jobs along the way. I didn’t like it because I had to work odd hours, it was boring, and the job didn’t pay very much money. It was a good way to earn a little income when I didn’t have lots of bills, but I certainly would never want to do that my whole life.
I said that going to college or training for a job that not everyone can do gives you more freedom and pays better. If you don’t have any real training, your job opportunities are pretty limited. I also told her to ask her Granny about being a grocery clerk. I’m sure my Mom will jump right back into the “finish your education” mantra she drilled into me as a child.
If you work as a store clerk, this post is not meant to demean or criticize your job in any way. Full time workers get benefits, paid time off, and the right people can work their way into management or specialty positions. I’d much rather be working at the grocery store than panhandling for a meal. I also know from many of my family members how hard it is to work your whole life for low wages, always doing what someone tells you to do, without much creative input or ability to advance. I think it would be a hard life, and I don’t want that for my kid.
Do you think we should encourage our kids to simply get a job or aim for a better paying career? If you work in a low wage job, are you happy with your position?