Realistic Earnings

By Joe Rector

Jim and I have worked since we were in the eighth grade. The first job was on a farm cutting weeds, moving rocks, and breaking ponies. Mr. Long paid us little for our work, and our parents paid more than we earned to doctors as they tried to get rid of the poison ivy we caught. Not many teens work during their high school years, but if they do, the money goes for frivolous things. My brother and I always put a portion of our checks in the bank and kept a small amount for weekend activities.

The Copper Kettle hired us in 1967. Jim and I worked the curb. We delivered orders to cars, hung the trays on windows, collected money, and prayed a tip might be in the cash. The place closed at 11:00 p.m. That’s when we had to clean. We swept both curbs and picked up trash. Leftover food, greasy food containers, and empty beer cans filled several large cans that had to be carried to the dumpster behind the business. We usually finished around midnight and arrived home shortly after. For every hour we worked, the owner paid us 52 ½ cents. Tips were to make up the biggest portion of our earnings, a humorous fact considering that most of the customers were teens who had little money.

For two years, we worked for the City of Knoxville. Mr. Long helped us to gain jobs with crews of high school boys. The work included picking up trash and cutting weeds and brush along roads and in alleys. The crews had about eight boys who rode in old pick-up trucks. The work was dirty and physically demanding. At the end of the day, we would take loads of brush and trash to the dump that used to be located on Asheville Highway. The pay was much better at $1.25.

I worked my senior year at Burger King. Harry hired me to be a utility-type employee. Sometimes I worked on the line; sometimes I changed the plugs in his car; sometimes I plowed the lot behind the store and seeded and strawed the area. The worst job I completed occurred on my birthday. I sat on top of the building and mopped the red plastic shingles. By the end of the day, I was exhausted and sunburned. By then, I’d moved up to making $1.35.

I held other jobs over the early years, but when I graduated college, the real money was supposed to come. I returned to Knoxville to teach English at Doyle High School. My first yearly salary was a whopping $7,200. I was ecstatic and told my bride that we would be rich when future raises bumped the yearly total to $10,000.

All of these examples of jobs, part-time and full-time, point to something not many young folks realize these days: graduates don’t start running companies. A new worker starts at the bottom of the pay scale. In the U.S., the average starting salary is about $40,000. It takes plenty of work and time before raises come. Not a single newbie is entitled to an office with a window. Most entry-level people spend the day in a cubicle that they might have to share with another worker on a different shift.

To anyone who is planning to build a career, I have a couple of words of advice. One, make sure you write a good resume. It “screams” who you are. Included in that information better be some work experience. Babysitting or completing chores at home won’t help you. Business owners want folks who have real-life experiences inside a business. A 4.0+ GPA and a list of organizations won’t be any predictor of the kind of employee you will be. However, a list of part-time jobs might just be the key to success. Last of all, don’t think you’ll begin making the “big bucks.” Proving your worth in that first job is what will lead workers to promotions and raises. In the end, a person’s success in any job is their own responsibility. Be excited and take every opportunity to show bosses how valuable you are.