President Obama and the Lemonade Stand
In Parade Magazine, President and First Lady Obama were asked the following question and answered it in the following way:
[Question] Do you want your daughters to work in the types of character-building minimum-wage jobs you had?
MO: Oh, yeah. I think every kid needs to get a taste of what it’s like to do that real hard work.
PO: We are looking for opportunities for them to feel as if going to work and getting a paycheck is not always fun, not always stimulating, not always fair. But that’s what most folks go through every single day.
Which somehow became political fodder for the Daily Caller, which characterized it as Obama Wants Daughters To Work Crappy Minimum-Wage Jobs So They Understand America, throwing in Sidwell for good measure. For Obama saying what I have heard countless Republican voters say or at least agree with over the years.
Except for “Obama said it” I have quite a bit of difficult understanding any criticism of this answer to a question that was, you know, asked. Are they supposed to act like their kids are “too good” for low jobs? That opens up a more pertinent line of criticism that I have little doubt that the Daily Caller would have pounced on.
It was suggested to me by Nob that the source of their criticism was the empathy angle. Which could be made to make sense, in a way. There is a difference, after all, between a wealthy person having their child work tough or unappreciated jobs to “build character” when a lot of people are doing it to more directly put food on their table. A difference between something as a transition period in life (being “young and poor”) and being out-and-out stuck there.
That, however, requires a reading of such scrutiny that the only correct answer is simply not to give one. Partisanship, in and of itself, isn’t really the point of this post. This is, after all, the Work Symposium. Nor is Republican-media-bashing, since I am not going to pretend that some twisting of the words would never be occurring the way around (but make whatever assumptions you wish).
Rather, I mostly wish to co-sign Obama’s statements as they echo something I have said repeatedly myself without nearly as much scrutiny. I’ve long believed that everybody should have a job in the service sector at some point in their life. Similarly, I see value in doing unpleasant work.
My reasoning is a little different than the empathy angle, though it’s all interrelated. On the service sector front, at least some of it is so that you will know what it is like to serve others. At least in part because it can (though does not always) give you an appreciation of the people who serve you. A recognition of their basic humanity, which shouldn’t be required but sometimes is.
The other half of that, though, is simply humility. Just because “anybody can do it” doesn’t make a job easy. Just because a job doesn’t pay much doesn’t actually mean that anyone can do it well. Also, as a customer service person, you are merely the spearhead of a larger organization and even if you are good at your job you will often take the blame for someone else’s error.
We read periodically about stories of cops or regulators shutting down lemonade stands. It’s one of those relatively small things that strikes a real nerve in our country. For many, it’s symbolic of so much. It’s stomping on young aspirations of capitalism. I sort of have a different take. My experience with lemonade stands is that it’s a long alternation between work, boredom, and timesuck with comparatively little reward unless you have the sort of social network to buy your lemonade as a friendly gesture. If there is a better encapsulation of the suckage that is capitalism from the bottom, I don’t know what it is. When lemonade stands are shut down, I think young people are saved from too-early exposure of the worst of capitalism.
It’s all uphill from the lemonade stand, however. At least when you’re working a minimum wage job, you’re getting steady and reliable pay. And hopefully, each job is better than the previous one. Humility, again, and character-building of a sort. Mostly, and this is what I worry about with my children and what President and First Lady Obama really need to worry about with theirs, it’s a counterweight to a sense of entitlement. A sense of perspective to make them appreciate wherever they do land, which will still have its stretches of boredom, disrespect, and so on.
McDonald’s was my second job, and that my second job was better than my first should tell you how great my first job was. In addition to the more self-oriented motivations above, I do think there is a broader social gain when children of the well-off and the poor start at McDonald’s or something like it. No, it’s not the same thing. It doesn’t give one a complete or profound understanding of how “the other half” lives. But it’s something, and better than nothing.