Growing up in working class Youngstown, most of us didn’t go to summer camp after school let out. Instead, by somewhere between 10 and 12, we started working some kind of summer job. Summer work was dad’s answer to my request for a raise in my allowance (so I could buy more baseball cards).
For me the first job was cutting grass. Dad fronted me the money for a lawn mower and in early spring I went around in about a four block area around my home and asked people if I could cut their grass. I ended up with about ten customers, which kept me busy enough–one or two a day when the grass was growing. Most of the times, I charged $2 to $3 per cutting depending on the size of the lawn, which was about the going rate. So I ended up making around $20 a week most weeks, a lot better than the dollar a week I’d been getting for an allowance. So dad asked me to save some of that, and I think I started setting aside $5-10 a week that I’d deposit in my Dollar Savings and Trust account.
When I was 12, I added a paper route to the mix, which many of us boys did to earn some money (not many girls back then–even summer jobs were gender biased–girls I knew babysat). I started my route in the summer and found that delivering on time and being friendly, I made almost as much in tips as I made on each paper. By then, I started being a bit more aware of clothes and actually bought my own back to school clothes (which may have been a mistake–I looked pretty dorky!).
But this brings up a point–for many of us, summer jobs made a contribution to the family economy. We learned to buy our own clothes and school supplies as well as some of the fun things, whether baseball cards or hot rod magazines that we wanted to buy.
By the time we were sixteen, many of us started working what were usually minimum wage jobs (these used to be seen as starter jobs for teenagers, not the main means of income for low income earning adults). We worked fast food at the local McDonalds or Dairy Queen. Some of us worked at the local swimming pools, or in grocery stores as stock clerks. Sometimes we started working in a family business. I worked at McKelvey’s as a stock clerk and later as a cashier and customer service desk person. My wife worked as a page at one of the branch libraries. This was the first experience for many of us at showing up on a set schedule, having a boss, and having taxes withheld. It was the first (and only) time I had to punch in and out on a time clock.
After high school, for some of us, summer jobs just became jobs as we entered the workforce. For others, who went on to college, summer jobs often went a long way toward paying tuition bills, as well as putting gas in the car. Up through the mid ’70s, many of the mills hired college guys to work in the mills, mostly in pretty unskilled positions–hot, hard work that convinced you that this is not what you wanted to do the rest of your life–but it probably paid as well as anything. Others worked on painting crews, repainting many of the wood sided homes throughout Youngstown. Then as now, many women turned to waitressing, where tip money, at the right restaurant, could add up. Others of us continued the jobs we had coming out of high school, which didn’t pay as well but with low tuition costs back then often paid the bills, if little else.
Summer jobs taught us early the value of a dollar, which you appreciated when it was your effort that went into it. They taught us responsibility–to show up, to work with different kinds of people, to manage our money. They made us contributors to the family economy, not free-loaders, which was looked down upon. And maybe they helped us appreciate what our parents had to do to make a living and provide a roof over our heads. Maybe we couldn’t put words to it all at the time, but I think that’s what we all were learning–valuable lessons and significant values that have probably shaped us ever since.
What was your first summer job? And what was your most memorable summer job?
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