On Teen Jobs and Minimum Wage

Newspaper Delivery Boy Memorial
Newspaper Delivery Boy Memorial

As regular as clockwork, we’re once again fighting over the minimum wage. For those lucky people living without benefit of TV news; the minimum wage references the minimum amount of money our government forces employers to pay their employees. Depending upon which side of the fence you’re on, this is either a basic governmental role of providing for the common good. Or, it’s a serious overreach of government leading down that slippery slope towards communism socialism tyranny a 1000 year reign of terror.

The minimum wage issue does not impact me personally. But, I remember my very first job, and I know many people currently working at minimum wage (or less). I see this as an issue of fairness

My Newspaper Delivery Job

My first paying job started when I was 13 years old (in 1970) delivering morning newspapers. I had applied to the local newspaper office by phone, then waited a year for an opening. The kid who had my route before me had delivered the papers for several years, but was moving on to something different.

I was up every morning at 5:00AM, seven days per week, and spent anywhere from one to four hours delivering newspapers to my customer route on bicycle. The time variance was based on thickness of the newspapers. The closer to Christmas, the thicker (heavier) each Sunday newspaper was, and the fewer I could carry at one time.

I was out in the weather riding a bicycle every morning. Most mornings I started out before sunrise, riding my bicycle in the dark. I delivered rain or shine, warm weather or cold. My first bicycle, a standard bicycle I had gotten for Christmas a few years earlier, broke down from the weight of newspapers after just a few weeks. My maternal Grandfather replaced it with a reconditioned “Beach Cruiser” style bike with heavy frame and 1.9″ tires. I learned that my bicycle’s 1.9″ width tires could handle up to 2″ depth of snow. More snow than that and I had to walk/push my bike. Rain meant I had to keep the newspapers dry. Keeping me dry was optional.

Paydays

Friday afternoons I had to collect my money. The subscriptions were $0.90 per week, meaning most customers gave me a whopping $0.10 (ten cents) tip. A few customers generously gave me as much as $0.25 (twenty-five cents) tip, and one customer who was apparently born an asshole found some reason to complain each and every week, and gave me no tip for reasons. Sometimes they handed me a dollar bill and asked for change. I usually had to go back around on Saturdays to collect from people who always seems to not be home/have no money on Fridays.

Once, I was accused of stealing $15.00 from a mailbox one of my customer’s friends claimed he put there. It was years before I figured out their friend didn’t have any money, and accused me of stealing as means of getting it. But I was blamed, and had to pay it.

Delivering newspapers was the first time I had any money to spend or otherwise manage. I worked an average of about 12 hours per week, and on a rare week I collected from all customers, I made about $15.00 profit. Which comes out to a whopping $1.25 per hour, at a time when minimum wage was $1.60 per hour. Minimum wage didn’t apply to my job because delivering newspapers was classified as an “independent contractor working on sales commissions.”

Dad was a tool and die maker working in the aerospace industry on Long Island. The aerospace industry was dying about that time, and dad was beginning to have trouble keeping a job. Of the money I made, I frequently treated my family to Sunday morning rolls and pastries from our neighborhood bakery. We all enjoyed the treat.

The End of My Delivery Career

I quit my route at the end of the school year in 1972. I had a planned one month wilderness survival camp in Bozeman, Montana, and my family was moving to upstate New York. The wilderness survival camp was my treat to myself, arranged with my Dad almost one year earlier. I was a lifelong (at that time) Boy Scout with an active troop. Dad knew I enjoyed my weekend campouts, and suggested I look at going to a wilderness survival camp.

He helped me search ads in the camping magazines and write letters. I picked out the camp, and our arrangement was I would pay for the camp, Dad would pay for my transportation. Given we didn’t have a lot of money at that time, this was a really big deal. So I saved as much of my newspaper route money as I could, and did save the several hundred dollars camp fee. When I returned, my family had already relocated to our new home in upstate New York.

That month-long wilderness camp trip is still the highlight of my teen years.

Modern Day

So here we are today. On one hand, Democrats claim that anyone working a 40 hour week should not be living in poverty. Republicans claim that minimum wage jobs are “only for teenagers starting out,” and not meant to be a “career salary.” This implies that “jobs for teenagers” are not rated as worthy as a “career job.”

Well, excuse the fuck out of me, but as a teenager I worked God Damn Hard for my $1.25/hour.

Today’s teenagers have fewer opportunities for holding part-time jobs. Cutting lawns? That’s the bread and butter income of small landscaping companies. Delivering newspapers? Of the few actual newspapers still printing hard copy today, the people delivering are adults using their cars/trucks, making extra money as a second part-time job. Pumping gas? Sorry, except for Oregon and New Jersey, all service stations are “Self-service” pumping gas on account it saves the owners money. Working in a grocery store as cashier? Cashiers are the careers for way too many people, working in stores that have not yet phased in “self-service” checkout.

Note: I refuse to use “self-service” checkouts.

In my opinion; it’s an outrage we are fighting for a $15.00 minimum wage (starting in three years). We should be fighting for a $22.00 minimum wage starting now.

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