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How Do You Tell Your Kid a Minimum Wage Job Is a Bad Idea?

struggles of minimum wage jobs

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?  

 

 

About Kim Parr

Kim Parr is a private practice optometrist, freelance writer, and personal financial blogger. You can follow her journey to 20/20 financial vision at Eyes on the Dollar.

27 comments

  1. This post reminded me of an interesting article from a couple of weeks ago http://aspen.us/journal/editions/mayjune-2015/education-alone-won’t-end-income-inequality which argued that education is a good route out of poverty for individuals but it can’t work for everyone – as you point out we will always need people to work in grocery stores.

    • Getting a college degree certainly doesn’t guarantee anything in life. You have to have marketable skills, with or without a degree, to rise above poverty.

  2. I hope my kids work low-wage jobs while they are in high school. I worked several – Walmart, Subway, etc. and the one thing I learned was that I didn’t want to work in a crappy job the rest of my life.
    With that being said, I agree with you that college isn’t for everyone. I think it would be great for my kids to learn a trade. I will support them whatever they decide.

    • I hope my daughter works in some terrible crappy jobs too so she will want to do something that pays a good salary. Money isn’t everything, but it sure buys many more choices and opportunities.

  3. That is a tough question to handle – and getting more of those like that from our oldest as well. We try to take the approach of telling our daughter that we want her to be happy and to use the skills she has or would like to build on. We’re hoping that us running the business will be a great foundation to help our kids think through what they’d like to do – and whether or not college will be a part of that.

    • I think it’s great that your kids see you make a living from home and know that it doesn’t have to be a 40 hour traditional work week to pay the bills.

  4. I always advise people to do this…

    Find the lifestyle you want to live. Find what careers/jobs pay that kind of money. Then go for that job.

    Finding a job you love is overrated. You have to like your job, but it doesn’t have to be the most fun thing you do.

    • I don’t think any job is the most fun thing you can do or it wouldn’t be a job. I am afraid so many people don’t base lifestyle on salary. That’s why we have so much debt in the world.

  5. I think it depends on the context your daughter was asking about the job. For a part time job a kid had when first starting to work, it is ok. Heck, it is ok for many adults as well. It depends on the individual’s skills and aptitude. It may not be the most exciting or best paying but if it keeps people off the welfare or unemployment rolls then it is not a “bad” job. Not everyone should go to college so for some a trade school is a better option. And for others being a grocery or sales clerk is perfectly ok. As my husband says, “the world needs ditch diggers too”.

    • I would be more than happy for her to work at the grocery as a teenager but I would be a bit sad if she made it her lifelong ambition.

  6. I think you did the right thing. I think just explaining the pros and cons without “judgement” and let them decide what is best for themselves. I think kids learn most by seeing their parents and other important adults in their life lead by example, and I’m sure watching you and your husband, she will make great decisions for her life! But in the end when she is an adult, it’s her life and decisions…even if they don’t always align with what you wanted for them.

    • That’s certainly true. I guess if she ends up working at Walmart, I can at least take advantage of the employee discount!

  7. I cleaned a bakery while in high school for min wage. There is no better incentive to get the skills you need for a good paying job than a crappy minimum wage job.

    • I bet that was a good incentive to find a better paying career. I used to have to clean the ice cream machine when I worked at a convenience store and it SUCKED!

  8. I don’t think you really need to explain it to them. Instead, have them work a minimum wage job in high school. I worked at Pizza Hut for a year when I was 16 and it was the best experience of my life. I’m not saying that because it was fun or an ideal work environment; to the contrary it taught me just how hard you have to work for money if you don’t have specialized skills and don’t “work smart.” Experience is the best teacher.

    • I totally agree that kids should all work at crappy jobs for low pay. Working at the blue jeans factory made me want to go to college way more than any lecture from a teacher or guidance counselor.

  9. Always a tough question. As you said, we need grocery store workers and they work hard to pay the bills and put food on the table for their families, so there definitely is no disrespect to them. And just like your Mom, I bet many of them want more for their kids too. It is also a gentle reminder to kids to recognize the opportunities they may have that others don’t.

    • After getting to know several life long supermarket workers (they have good vision benefits), almost all of them have put kids through college or encouraged them to do things that paid better. I don’t think any are ashamed of their work, but like my Mom found out, it’s hard on your body and mind and not what you’d probably wish for your child.

  10. It’s a tough question that has a broader basis than just jobs, I think. I’d want to encourage my child to be the best they could be in every aspect without making them grow up feeling entitled or too good for something like being a cashier.

    In this case, I wonder if money matters less than status.

    I’ve worked in many low-paying jobs and was very proud and happy to hold some of them while there were others I couldn’t leave soon enough Being a social worker or a teacher, working for a non-profit, or serving in the military like I did are all jobs that could give you an income close to minimum wage when you’re just starting out. However, in my mind there’s a big difference to when I was making less than $1000 a month as a new soldier and someone making the same as a cashier….

    That said, I’m still not sure where I’d land if it were my own kid asking the questions.

    • Starting salary for teachers in our area is around $22K. I’m sure you could almost make that at the grocery store.

  11. I think the problem these days is that kids think they deserve the best job from the start and think minimum wage jobs are beneath them. There’s nothing wrong with working your way up … even if you did go to college! I personally know quite a few people who work at Costco and love it. They’ve been working there for years and actually do quite well for themselves. I don’t think any less of their positions then I do of my hubby’s, who has his masters and admin certificate.

    That being said, we are encouraging our kids to go to college but I’m hoping they will have a focused plan and realize it’s okay to start out in a minimum wage job!

    • My sister in law had a really good job at Safeway for years as a meat cutter, which was a union job. She quit to stay home with her kids, but the benefits and salary were as good as what Jim made as a teacher. I think you can make a career if you stick with it and have the smarts for moving into management, but so many of the people who start off at minimum wage don’t have those skills to advance.

  12. I agree with Holly. Young people should work low-wage jobs for a bit. The most obvious reason is that it’ll make them want to get better paying jobs, which will motivate them to get more education or training.

    But it will make them better appreciate people who are stuck in low-wage jobs. They’ll realize just how much work these people are doing, which will make them less likely to denigrate the working poor.

    • There is a big difference between those working low wage jobs while pursuing education or training in a more high paying field and those who are lifers. I always really liked the coworkers I met when I was doing that, but I also felt really sorry that was the end of the road for them and there wasn’t much to look forward to as far as advancement.

  13. I would never tell my kids that any kind of work was below them, and will do my best to instill in them the value of hard work. Having said that, along with working hard goes working smart, and I hope they end up loving academia and intellect for it´s own sake as much as my husband and I do.

  14. For me, it is fine with me if my kids work in a minimum wage job for them to realize how to go for a better job and experience what it is like to be in that position. I know this would teach them great lessons.

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