President Obama and the Lemonade Stand

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Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

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  1. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    I suppose the question is how seriously is someone willing to take this.

    I worked in low-paying jobs in college. One summer, I was a camp counselor and also a bus counselor and this made my days much, much longer than the counselors who drove to camp and back. The other summer I spent working at a local park. For a few weeks, I did grounds crew work and then for the rest of the summer, I was a watcher at a wading pool. The grounds work was hard but working at the pool was easy more often than not because on weekdays there could be long stretches without many or any kids at the pool. The pool was also overstaffed and on days when we all worked we devised a system of “two hours on. two hours off.” and still got paid.

    For both jobs I still went back to the comforts of my upper-middle class suburban home of my parents.

    So there is value in working a minimum wage job and developing empathy but I would raise the question how much empathy can be really gained from working a minimum wage or law wage job but still living in the White House or whereever the Obamas settle post term.

    The only way to really let their kids have a true minimum wage experience is to be kind of cruel and kick them out and say they have to pay for rent, health insurance, food, and other expenses on a minimum wage budget. I doubt most parents are willing to do that. Say one of their daughters suffers an injury at work, do you think the Obamas (or any other middle-class and above parent) would let the injury go untreated just because it would be learning experience for how the other half live. I think we would rightfully say any parent who did this was being irresponsible especially if the child was under 18.

    Lastly, Obama’s children will probably not understand a true minimum wage job because of the really bad PR that will happen with the headline “Obama’s daughter suffered major oil burn at work, ordered to work rest of shift!”

    “Smoke some fags and play some pool, pretend you never went to school.
    But still you’ll never get it right
    ‘cos when you’re laid in bed at night watching roaches climb the wall
    If you call your Dad he could stop it all.
    You’ll never live like common people
    You’ll never do what common people do
    You’ll never fail like common people
    You’ll never watch your life slide out of view, and dance and drink and screw
    Because there’s nothing else to do. “-Common People, Pulp.Report

    • Oh, I think there are limitations of having kids work such jobs as an expression of empathy. Even if they don’t understand the nature of truly living hand-to-mouth, though, understanding the demands and stresses of the work is still something. It is important not to overestimate what insights it might give, though still valuable not to shield them entirely.

      And for the service sector in particular – especially the lower rungs of it – I see a pretty genuine difference in people who have worked in the service sector and those who haven’t in how they treat people in the service sector. Not always, of course, but noticeable all the same.

      In the case of Obama in particular – and this was a subject of some sort of criticism in the Caller article – it is unlikely that their kids will ever get the sort of experience that Barack and Michelle Obama had. The security implications alone cause significant headaches and they have so many amazing opportunities that the opportunity costs of them doing so are exceptionally high. That’s the nature of the beast, whether we like it or not. Even so, it’s good at least be aware of the potential pitfalls of it, as the Obamas seem to be (or seem to be sufficiently aware to know to speak of it).

      I actually have William Shatner’s version of Common People on my master playlist.Report

      • Though I should add, the limitations you point to are partly why I do view the “empathy” aspect as of secondary importance. It’s a fine line between exposing yourself to different sorts of people and being a St Maartens College tourist like in the song.

        To move away from jobs for a moment, I lived in a rathole for a couple of years. It was a learning experience, no doubt. It taught me some things I do hope my children learn. But really? What I value most about the experience is that it gave me a perspective. Live in a converted hotel room for over a couple of years, and every place you live after that becomes larger. To move back to work, if you start working at a relatively low-wage, no-respect atmosphere, it gives you an appreciation for what comes after.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Will Truman says:

        Obamas probably can’t get their kids a “decent service sector job”… but I don’t see that they can’t put them on a mule train, and give ’em chain saws for some trail maintenance. Or be on fire tower duty, or one of the other lonely ass jobs they have out west.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Will Truman says:

        @kim

        Those fire trail jobs are largely done at command centers and with tech now. The old days of a person in a tower with a lot of books like Jack Kerouac did once are gone.Report

    • Avatar zic in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      Lastly, Obama’s children will probably not understand a true minimum wage job because of the really bad PR that will happen with the headline “Obama’s daughter suffered major oil burn at work, ordered to work rest of shift!”

      They won’t ever hold a true minimum wage job because they’re the President’s daughters, and they’ll have a secret service escort for several years (they’ll need them, too). One of the costs of his job is that it robs his family of ‘normal’ experience, and this is one of them.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to zic says:

        This is true, and kind of hard to explain in the course of a Parade interview. It’s also worth pointing out that, DC’s framing aside (and my own, I suppose), they spoke more abstractly and less about working in actual fast food jobs. The importance of working jobs even when they aren’t fun, or don’t pay as much as you would like. The context for the Obama’s is different than the context for the Trumans is different from other families on what this means. But it’s an expression of a generally worthwhile concept, even if there are the sorts of literal limitations that Saul refers to.Report

      • Avatar Damon in reply to zic says:

        It’s not like a 1% er is going to have a normal experience of his kids going to work at a mimimum wage job anyway. Let’s get real, no one who has any money is going to do one. Oh, maybe they’ll be paid mimimum, but it’ll be for some think tank as an intern or some other place that’s politically connected.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to zic says:

        Damon,
        frankly, that’s bullshit. I know someone who pulled minimum wage jobs (or nearly so) while also making oodles of money. Gave him time to think — and get paid while doing so.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to zic says:

        I used to work at a summer camp. Most of my teenage colleagues were of extraordinary means. 1%ers, if you will. I remember overhearing two of them talk about how their monthly allowance was more than our six-week salary (which was between $1000-1200 at the time, a bit above minimum wage). “Why are you even working here?” I asked. “Eh… we’re bored.” “Our parents wanted us to do something.” “We can hang out together all day.”

        I don’t know how typical these girls were. They didn’t strike me as particularly capable of reflection or self-awareness (even less so than your normal 16- to 20-year-old). I don’t know that they really benefited from this minima wage gig. Then again, they were working as camp counselors at a camp designed to give the young children of the wealthy something fun to do during the summer and the older children of the wealthy something to occupy their time as employees*. So it’s probably not exactly what we’re talking about here, but my hunch is their attitude would have been somewhat similar regardless of where they were.

        Of course, not all of my colleagues were like this. But the ones who were really stood out.

        * I worked there because my mom was a teacher at the school.Report

      • Avatar Damon in reply to zic says:

        @kim
        Yeah, your example covers the small minority of 1%. Mine, likey covers the majority. And I was addressing the kids. Were you? “Cause we’re talking about a job for kids to learn “how the other half lives”.Report

    • @saul-degraw

      The only way to really let their kids have a true minimum wage experience is to be kind of cruel and kick them out and say they have to pay for rent, health insurance, food, and other expenses on a minimum wage budget. I doubt most parents are willing to do that.

      I will say that as much as I wear my customer-service history on my sleeve, it was huge to know that I could always go back to my parents’ if things got rough. Also, as an undergrad, I spent summers and winter break there rent-free. As a grad student, I occasionally got unsolicited checks that were enough to pay 1 or 2 months rent. Those were very big advantages.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      I’d let my kids go out on their own for a year or two. Maybe not to the point of letting them inflict permanent harm on themselves… but I’d at least consider bandaging them myself rather than dragging them off to the hospital.Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      The only way to really let their kids have a true minimum wage experience is to be kind of cruel and kick them out and say they have to pay for rent, health insurance, food, and other expenses on a minimum wage budget.

      This is not the typical minimum wage experience. The majority of minimum-wage earners are not the only income earners in their households.Report

  2. Avatar Kolohe says:

    I presume that Sasha & Malia will at some point make less than minimum wage at an internship somewhere.Report

  3. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    I have never read or seen any story of cop or regulator shutting down a kid’s lemonade stand. The entire thing seems so bizarre simply because it makes for very bad public relations and the activity itself is so harmless.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman in reply to LeeEsq says:

      Here’s a piece by Erik Kain stitching together various cases, and here’s a map of incidents. Something along these lines actually happened to our own Christopher Carr. I can’t remember the specifics and can’t find the post he wrote about it.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Will Truman says:

        Here is my view of these things. We live in a very big nation with a lot of people.

        There are kids everywhere selling lemonade or candy bars on any given day in the United States and maybe a handful of cases where a kid gets shut down and this becomes big news because of the rarity and absurdity of it all.Report

      • Oh, I agree worth that. It’s rare, but it gets a lot of attention when it happens. Not just because it’s rare but because it strikes a particular nerve with a lot of people that it happens at all.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Will Truman says:

        From a purely legal point of view, I can see why police and regulators would subject kid’s lemonade stands to the same regulations and requirements as adult businesses. The law is the law and kids aren’t exempt from it simply because of their age. It just seems like such a pig-headed action that you need to be really idealistic about regulation or an asshole to do it.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Will Truman says:

        When I lived in MD, the US Open was played just down the road at Congressional in the toney neighborhood of Chevy Chase. There was outcry when a kids’ lemonade serving attendees stand was shutdown.

        Turns out it was a highly organized effort largely put together by adults and manned by their kids and which was directly competing with vendors who spent real money on limited permits for the event.

        Of course, the adult organizers made no bones pushing the “They came after the kids” narrative.

        I’m curious how many of the other cases might have had similar back stories.

        Link here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/pb/local/dc-politics/montgomery-tries-to-put-the-squeeze-on-lemonade-stand/2011/06/17/AGJ9fWZH_story.html

        Heh… I forgot that the Marriott family was among the parents involved.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Will Truman says:

        @kazzy, from Will’s link it does seem that some of the shutdowns to occur on events where there would also be adult vendors.Report

      • Like @leeesq , I’m suspicious of these stories. It’s not that they don’t happen. They evidently do. But it seems like one of those things that certain people would have to invent if they didn’t happen. There seems to be so much indignation about these phenomena and it seems to fit so neatly into a narrative about thoughtless “government functionaries” (to use a term Jaybird used in another post), that I’m just suspicious it’s as big a deal.

        I do wonder how many of these cases are more explicable than “cop shuts down kid’s lemonade stand” suggests. @kazzy cites an instance that apparently isn’t quite so simple. I also wonder–though I have no example to cite–whether in some cases the cop in question might see a kid in an unsafe area, say by a very busy street, and tells the kid to dismantle.

        To cite two of Erik’s examples,

        Dustin Krustinger told reporters that his daughter was selling lemonade at 25 cents a cup during the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Race Across Iowa (or RAGBRAI), and couldn’t have made more than five dollars,

        And

        In Appleton, Wisconsin the city council recently passed an ordinance preventing vendors from selling products within two blocks of local events – including kids who want to sell lemonade or cookies.

        I wonder if the first had more to do with the event organizers’ liability. True, the lemonade stand in question was four blocks away, but if it was patronized by event-goers and someone slips on the sidewalk (or some bully robs the kids), would the even organizers have any liability? I wonder if the second is partially an example of a similar thing, or an attempt to “protect” local businesses from competition. (If it’s the latter, then that’s bad, but different from an overzealous regulator patrolling the streets looking for a violation.)

        Erik also mentions people who call police to complain about such kids. Unless they have a good reason (e.g., safety of kids on a busy street), I don’t really like such people. But if a citizen complains, does a cop, doing his/her job, have as much discretion to let the situation go? Even if the cop does have discretion, his/her decision to shut down the stand at the request of a complaining citizen strikes me as something different from a cop shutting it down because the well-worn copy of local business regulations he/she carries with states a technical violation.

        It sounds like I’m jumping through hoops to justify what to some is the inexcusable. But even after reading Erik’s article (but not looking at the map @will-truman refers us to), I still don’t see it as the bad thing others do. Maybe an individual instance can be bad and ought to be criticized, but I’d prefer to take it on a case-by-case basis, and so far I have yet that this yet represents a “war” on lemonade stands.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Will Truman says:

        @gabriel-conroy

        We also have to look at how the outrage machine works. As you note, at least some of these instances were the results of complaints. But there is far more currency in shouting about the evil government going after cute kids than there is in shouting about cute kids being a nuisance. It is possible that people’s actual feelings on the matter are more split and/or nuanced that the coverage would lead us to believe, in part because no one wants to be “that guy” who pens the piece headlined, “Serving and Protecting: Terrorism-ade Stands and the Brave Men and Women Charged with Thwarting Them.”Report

      • All, Here is the story of Christopher Carr’s step-son’s green tea stand.Report

  4. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    If you teach kids that capitalism sucks at very early age, don’t you risk the chance that many of them are going to start looking for alternatives to capitalism when they get older as a matter of politics? Thats fine from my liberal perspective but I don’t its the lesson that many American parents want to teach their children.

    It seems that teaching kids that life can be unfair in various ways as tremendous opportunities to backfire. A conservative parent who wants to give their kid a lesson in the downside of capitalism might be thinking that they are going to teach their kid the importance of handwork and striving. The kid could end up questioning capitalism in total. A liberal parent might want to teach something about empathy but end up with a kid who thinks the lesson that this is a dog eat dog world and you got to hustle and commit acts of questionable ethics to get by.Report

  5. Avatar Kazzy says:

    I’m bothered by some of the assumptions that the interviewer makes in framing/asking the question and which the Obamas indulge in via their answers.

    First, the “hardness” of the work. What makes a job hard? Physical demands? Mental? Specificity of skills? Desirability? All these factor in and how hard or easy a job is is going to depend a lot on the individual performing it. So I disagree with the assumption that low wage jobs are necessarily hard (and the implied inverse, that high wage jobs are easy).

    Second, how the person approaches the job matters. Will it actually build character? Again, not necessarily. High school students across the country often participate in compulsory volunteer (a concept I’ve never understood and which I made a bit of a stir if when I was in HS) work and many of them remain assholes because they approach it as little more than another chore to suffer through.

    Third – and this might get my liberal card yanked – but I think we should be careful about assuming there is some inherent honor to aspects of an impoverished lifestyle and promoting this belief to young people. Now, don’t get me wrong: I’d never advocate looking down upon someone because of the job they hold (unless their worm is truly contemptible, e.g., hit man). But we shouldn’t hold up the garbage man as some noble ideal. Most garbage men are garbage men because they didn’t have better options. This doesn’t make them bad people or any less deserving of respect and decency. But if we say they and they alone are the ones engaged in real work, hard work, character-building work — I think we send a weird message to kids. If garbage man is the right gig for someone, so be it. But let’s not romanticize it because of some weird ideal… Especially if you’ve never actually done it.
    (I specifically used garbage collectors because I knew some growing up, my dad used to help them, and I would often accompany him, hauling and chucking trash.)Report

  6. 1) I don’t think “hard” is as significant a description as “unpleasant.” I do think “hard” matters insofar as it’s not paticularly “easy” which is an impression that I think some people get. Particularly when it comes to customer service jobs.

    2) This is a good point. If this is their response, then it’s probably too late. If you already give a teen enough in allowance, for example, so that the money working the job isn’t required… then it really is just a “chore.” So it’s something you need to be concerned about.

    3) This really wasn’t the impression that I got. I point back to the “hard” vs “unpleasant” distinction above. I might make a distinction here between “noble” and “dignity”… not that unpleasant jobs are noble, but that they are not undignified. This does bring us back to #2… where if they are approaching it as a chore or a punishment it can have the opposite effect.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Will Truman says:

      I think #3 is something I see more generally and not necessarily in the Obamas’ comments.

      And I should say that I wouldn’t really criticize their responses here. As you note, they were asked a weird question and gave a fair answer. I’m more bothered by the thinking behind the question.

      I want my children to have as wide and varied a set of life experiences as possible. This may or may not include working “hard” jobs. I think there are other ways to achieve the very real benefits that a “hard” job can yield AND no guarantee that a “hard” job will yield them. As such, I see “hard” jobs as a possibly-good-but-not-necessary life experience. Let’s not make a summer hauling trash or flipping burgers into more than it is. For some, it can be life changing. For many, it won’t be. Again, let’s not romanticize it.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Kazzy says:

        This is where actually having some first-hand experience is helpful.

        I worked at McDonald’s. I feel comfortable saying that I would like my kids to hold a similar job. I did not work a summer on the highway holding a construction sign like my father did. If I were to say that I hope my kids do something like that… I would have to make sure that I wasn’t romanticizing it. On the other hand, if I could cite other people who have worked the job and speak of it like as potentially enhancing perspective on such matters… maybe less awkward then.

        Not everybody needs to work these jobs to gain the proper perspective, but there are certainly attitudes I see that are indicative of never having done so. A friend of mine bragged – bragged – about making a customer service agent with his credit card company cry. This guy was not a jerk. He was really pissed off at his credit card company. I think the fact that he had never been on the other side of that call – or the other side of that table – played a role in how he viewed the CSA girl. She was a prop, to him. An agent of the enemy. It also comes up in conversations about tips.

        Not everyone needs that, of course. But if I weigh those people against the people who use their own experiences to be extra critical of waitstaff (for example), it’s not a particularly close call.

        I agree about not romanticizing it. I would hesitate to call it “life changing” for anybody because that makes me think of like a religious conversion or Eat Pray Love or something. I would look at it more along the line of “perspective enhancing”. (Though you’re right that not everyone needs it, and others never gain it even after the experience.)Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Kazzy says:

        @will-truman

        I get the feeling there’s something about McDonald’s per se that does something for you in maintaining this view (a view I have not a little sympathy with, so long as we’re not attaching the unpleasantness to working for an employer with a certain… public profile or the making the crappiness brand-specific in some way). But I hope I’m wrong.

        To be more direct about it: I’ve dropped a basket of fries or two in my day, and not just when I was a teenager. But never at McDonalds. Never at Wendy’s or BK or Hardee’s. In fact, once while at McDonalds as a kid I told my dad I would never, ever work there, period. Food was fine for me at twelve years old, but at ten years old I knew I could not deal with the atmosphere as a workplace. Got the loudest yelling-at I ever got from my dad when I hadn’t physically endangered anybody. And that was fine; I didn’t care. It didn’t move the needle a millimeter. I was never going to work at McDonalds and I never did and I never will.

        However. I’ve dropped fries. I legitimately didn’t like being Fry Guy at Trendy Modern-Take-On-Traditional-Supper-Club Tavern-Restaurant on the Capitol Square during my last stint in Madison. I’d rather have been a research assistant at the LaFollette Institute. But the latter wasn’t available to me while the former eventually became so. So I damn sure did it in my thirties when all the twentysomethings who were way better cooks than I were on the “real cook” stations. (Actually, “Pantry” – soups and salads – was the real scrub station. I got pretty good at that and it ended up being kinda fun.)

        …Anyway. (Rambling.) I’m not going to deny that’s not the *same exact thing* as working at McDonalds because it was a very different kind of place. But I sure think it should count as doing “unpleasant” work in the sense you mean. What say you? I hope you agree – I hope this is actually about learning about the unpleasant work itself and not about working *at a place LIKE McDonalds*.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Kazzy says:

        That absolutely counts.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Kazzy says:

        …And let me say that I’m with you on the “do some of this kind work” injunction (for most everyone in most all circumstances where possible), so long as we maintain at least in theory (or in fiction for the purpose of the exercise?) a binary taxonomy about what counts. But I hope your response to the comment above isn’t something along the lines of there being a continuum (even though that’s what there actually is), because that rather erases the injunction and turns the whole stance into a pissing contest about who’s done the (most) crappiest work. And that, my friend, is a WORTHLESS go-nowhere road to go down.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Kazzy says:

        …I figured it did. Just wanted to trace out the point a bit. Thanks for responding.

        Also: I wasn’t expecting you’d say “it’s a continuum,” either, just so we’re clear. But a lot of this is obviously in the back and feet of the person doing the job. Luckily it doesn’t really need to be exact. I think people should do a little bit of this stuff but not much more than they really need to if they can avoid it. And none is okay if they can learn to avoid being a dick to service workers (and I can say that being/having been one is no panacea to that problem anyway) and learn about working hard in more rewarding pursuits in their own ways. But doing some tends to help with those things, I agree.

        Have a good night.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

        @will-truman

        I’ve never worked at McD’s, but I have worked in food service in a number of roles: campus cafeteria, campus catering (which was sort of like being a waiter, but I didn’t take orders; it involved everything from slinging hot dogs at an outdoor cookout to serving five-course meals to the University President), and food delivery (though I was probably better situated than most food delivery folks, working on the books for a casual Italian place that paid a decent base salary and let me keep all my tips). I’ve also worked as a camp counselor, assisted my dad with various outdoor tasks when he landscaped (not really a job, as I wasn’t paid, but I did help with the work), and teaching itself is a “service” job of sorts, albeit different than what we’re talking about.

        I think your comment actually illustrates my point: it is not that there is something inherently embiggening about flipping burgers for minimum wage. Rather, there is value in experiencing things that offers one perspectives. Whether it’s working the register at McD’s or operating the phone at a call center, working in customer service is going to give one perspective on what goes into such a job and likely improve how they interact with such people when they are on the other end of the table. I never worked a phone, but having had to take the brunt of a customer’s ire over a botched pizza order, I know what it feels like to be the scapegoat. So even when I’m involved in the most frustrating of interactions with a CSA — even when I allow myself to get testy so as to clearly communicate my frustration — I can harken back to that experience and remember to treat the person with basic decency and respect. Because that is what I would have wanted when I was in similar shows to their own.

        So, to that extent, I absolutely think such work can be character building. It takes the right structuring and framing and frame of mind, but it is certainly doable. There is also value in learning how to handle being a peon, how to deal with screwed up corporate culture and/or mismanagement, etc. These are practical skills which certain jobs are better at teaching than others. I have no qualms encouraging my kids to learn those skills — because I consider them highly valuable.

        I just bristle at the idea that everyone should flip burgers for McD’s because there is something inherently valuable about flipping burgers for minimum wage. There isn’t. Flipping burgers is flipping burgers. Earning minimum wage is earning minimum wage.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Kazzy says:

        Working at fast food places seems like a great way to get Really Cool Scars!Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Kazzy says:

        @michael-drew There is a spectrum element, but I think there’s also a checkmark element. Which is to say that I think, once you have passed a certain threshold (which is admittedly hard to nail down) it’s probably best to just move on.

        If there’s a “physical labor” requirement, I feel that I have not met it. I have, however, worked for several weekends moving furniture in the Gulf heat. And I spent a couple of years on the university paper route which required quite a bit of physical labor. If I think hard enough, I could probably find more. But the totality of this does not fill me with what I would consider the appreciation of having worked physical labor to the point that I could feel comfortable having had a physical labor experience that others lack. But what I did was still something, though, and while I didn’t get an experiential checkmark, I did get a taste.

        But there’s a point of diminishing or negligible returns on such things. If you worked a summer on a pipeline (a not-uncommon way for young people to make money in my region back in my day), I don’t see having worked two (or three, four…) as being a difference-maker if the first one wasn’t. I don’t see much point in comparing moving furniture (provided that we’re not talking about just a couple weekends a year) with a pipeline. So there it’s more of a yes/no question.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Kazzy says:

        @kazzy I tend not to count camp counseling. In large part because of what the counselers you mention said. (I was actually considering counseling before you brought it up!) I definitely agree that how you go into it matters, and how you were raised to think about such things.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

        @will-truman

        Counselor work can be very valuable across a number of skills and a day camp counselor (as opposed to a sleep away camp counselor) can learn real ‘customer service’ skills from daily interactions with parents. That said, I would put it in a different category than most of the other jobs we’re talking about.

        My high school used to (and still might) have a program wherein seniors who met certain academic standards* were excused from the last some-odd weeks of class (4? 6? I don’t remember the details…) while they did volunteer work somewhere in the community. We were given pretty wide birth with regards to what sort of work we took on. The main criteria I remember was that you couldn’t get paid for it and you couldn’t work for a family member. But it didn’t have to be a typical volunteer position, e.g., shelter, soup kitchen, nursing home. Some people volunteered at the hospital or in the elementary school or in a local law office. There was no real manufacturing in our town and I’m not sure if retail or food service would have qualified. Still, it was a pretty good program on a number of levels: it helped combat senioritis; it gave the community a few hundred extra volunteers for a couple of weeks; it offered a bit of real world experience; and, for kids like me, it helped them learn a bit more about a potential career path (I worked in a day care center).

        I could even see expanding the program such that it was year-long (not missing an entire year’s worth of classes, mind you, but perhaps leaving an hour early or coming in an hour late to accommodate a work schedule), allowed the students to be paid, and gave them a broader range of potential employers. You’d want/need more oversight and would probably want to give the students assignments to complete related to their experience as an employee (less “Write a paper on disassembling an engine block” and more “Describe a positive experience you witnessed between your boss and a customer” or “Write about the importance of time management when tasked with multiple goals”). The goal wouldn’t be to turn high school into a low-wage job, but rather to make it a more effective use of time. I had a study hall senior year and because of block scheduling, this mean 90 minutes of nothingness every other day. I didn’t even have to be on campus. It was first period so I usually just slept in. Imagine if I could have put that time to good use while still staying out of the classroom?Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

        And nothing precluded me from working during that time, but it is hard to find a job where you only work every other day in the early AM. I mean, I guess I could have worked at a diner, but what else? But if instead of doing it on my own, if the school had a program where they said, “Take off at 2 every day, work your job, earn your money, complete these assignments, and meet with your advisor once every two weeks,” I would have jumped at it and had real opportunities available.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Kazzy says:

        Both my parents worked at least one factory job during the summer months when they were in college. I think my Dad was in a sugar refining factory and my mom in a garment factory. Neither really needed the job but it seemed to have some type of requirement for my Dad’s degree. I think both of them regretted that neither Saul or I could have experience working in a factory.Report

    • Re: which jobs are “hard”?

      I know this has been fleshed out a lot already, but I want to add another point to what @kazzy says, and I think it’s implicit in what he (and Will, and others here) have said.

      What makes a job hard? Physical demands? Mental? Specificity of skills? Desirability? All these factor in and how hard or easy a job is is going to depend a lot on the individual performing it. So I disagree with the assumption that low wage jobs are necessarily hard (and the implied inverse, that high wage jobs are easy).

      My only reservation is, unfortunately, anecdotal. I remember in high school and middle school being told by some teachers that if I didn’t get a degree, I would be “flipping burgers” for the rest of my life. (It usually wasn’t told to me personally, but as a comment made to the class as a whole.) I took from those admonitions that they meant such jobs were easy. Even before I started working such jobs, I didn’t necessarily agree, but I kind of did. Anyway, when I finally started working such jobs, I was honestly surprised at how much skill it took to do them properly. It was “hard” in a way I hadn’t imagined.

      Of course, the skills for that job could be learned in a matter of weeks or days. Other jobs require a lot more formal or informal training. And later, when I had office jobs, which I as a fast food worker had imagined were lush and easy because the people didn’t have wear a uniform and could sit at a desk, I was quickly disabused of that notion. They could be hard and stressful, too.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

        And, see, I’m one of those people who tends to say that my job (teaching PreK, 4- and 5-year-olds) is easy. And what I really mean is that it’s easy for me. The difficult parts of the job don’t really bother me. It’s time consuming, mentally challenging, can be physically exhausting, requires a pretty extensive set of skills and knowledge to do well, can be emotionally draining (ya know, for people with emotions), etc. I work hard at it and wouldn’t objectively consider it easy work to do, but it is easy for me. And I think that is really important.

        Just staying in the education world, I look at middle school teachers and think, “That shit’s impossible.” But those teachers look at what I do and think the same thing. Ideally, we all find a job wherein the negatives aren’t so bothersome and the positives are highly rewarding. I’m glad I found the PreK world and my MS colleagues found their 4th and 5th and 6th grade classrooms. I realize this won’t be the case for everyone. Enjoying what you do, taking pride in your work — even on those days when it is a bit more of a slog than usual or in the face of the very real difficulties and hardships that any job presents — is incredibly valuable. I hope other people find that as I have.Report

      • My job at the restaurant required a level of effort on my part that was, looking back, downright heroic. I worked 8s, 10s, 12s, and ran ragged from the time I showed up to the time I left. I could not do that job today.

        Though the labor was unskilled, it definitely was not anywhere even close to “easy”.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

        The “hardest” job I ever had — in terms of that which I found the most sufferable — was when I worked as a grant/research assistant for my stepfather, a college professor. At one point, I had to create a 3D topographical map based on a computer simulation he was developing (he teaches environmental science). For several days, I had to just sit at a computer manually pulling out data. Point A1, elevation of 12.4 feet. Point A2, elevation of 12.4 feet. Point A3, elevation of 12.5 feet. Thousands of points. I almost killed myself. I remember one day firing off an email to my friends which simply said, “Oh no, guys. It’s 10:30am and I just ate my lunch because I was so bored. Now I have nothing to look forward to the rest of the day.” Eventually, the work turned more hands on; constructing the map out of cardboard was mentally challenging and fun. Other tasks were also more stimulating. But I’m not really cut out to be put in a room alone and do pen-and-paper type work. Oi…Report

  7. Avatar Damon says:

    Few points:

    My neice is an artist. I liked her work and “commissioned” a job from her. For two reasons: 1) I wanted some of her work and 2) it would be good experience for her to deal with customers. There were conversations about what I wanted, colors, materials, costs, time, etc. She learned that it’s not just the materials but her time that has to be priced, to deal with customers, etc. I called her out on a promise to call me one day when she didn’t. I think it was a good experience for her. The little devil actually turned it into a class project so she got a grade out of the deal too.

    Now, as to mimum wage work. McDonalds is hard work? Expect maybe dealing with the customers? My minimum wage job was riding a sled behind a baler stacking wheat bales for 12 hours a day (1AM-1PM) on a farm and hour from home. We fixed flat tires, fought grass fires, baled wheat, and such. That was hard.Report

  8. Avatar notme says:

    Capitalism sucks? Really, capitalism is the main reason why human society has advanced so far instead of stagnating like Eastern Europe under the Soviets. Sure, it is the worst system out there except for all the others.Report

  9. Avatar Jim Heffman says:

    “physically demanding” is not “hard”. It may be effort beyond some people’s capability, but it isn’t like “here’s a shovel, dig a hole, be done by five PM” is a hard problem to get your head around.

    I think that what people want is a sentiment expressed earlier in the thread–that it’s not so much “hard work” as it is work that requires you form a rapport with other people. Sitting in a call center for eight hours handling people’s car-reservation woes is not hard, but it does mean you need to learn how to accept the fact that sometimes people are gonna be real mad about their problems, and their method of dealing with it is to have a screaming fit at you, and that next time your thing isn’t absolutely perfect you should recognize that the person on the phone has a very limited set of options to fix it.Report

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