On the benefits of McEmployment

CoastalMaineiac posted this about fast-food jobs in another thread. Emphasis mine:

Thinking of the people I personally know, dirt-tier minimum wage jobs are actually a hindrance to one’s career. The high schoolers working register at McDonald’s aren’t learning at their schools’ extracurricular activities. College students doing the same are spending time that could be spent studying for better grades, doing undergraduate research, or finding foot-in-the-door jobs in their actual intended industry. Once you’re an adult, McJobs are so much deadweight that I’ve heard recruiters say they should be left off your resume entirely, if you can explain what else you were doing with the time.

Now consider the current minimum wage and that most McJobs only give you insignificant, irrelevant skills like folding clothes, reading telephone scripts, or squirting preportioned condiments onto hamburger buns. Add to that the uncertain hours, lack of security, lack of benefits, and higher risk of being paired with toxic co-workers or management (surprise: $30k/yr doesn’t pull the best leaders).

All of this is to say that even the best stories I’ve heard about McJobs are that they were merely a fresh diversion or helped somebody gain a lot of contacts they otherwise wouldn’t have. As a cost-benefit proposition I am not convinced they are worth it.

I’m posting this in GQ because I honestly think there’s a factual question and answer that can be tackled here. Do people who work McJobs have better lives afterward than people who simply don’t work in the same time frame?

My first job was in the late 1960s as an usher in a movie theater. In terms of useful skills, one could argue that my responsibilities were far less than those of a burger flipper. Basically, all I did was stand in the back of the theater, opening doors, sometimes tearing tickets, not much else.

But I learned a lot about the importance of showing up on time, acting respectfully to the boos and customers, and responsibility in general.

My first job was making the minimum wage of 95¢ an hour back in 1967. I now make over $110,000 a year even after quitting a few part time jobs doing consulting and teaching.

Advantages of my McJobs:
My family was poor so I had some spending money.
I learned the value of coming to work on time and doing a job well.
I knew I sure in hell didn’t want to make minimum wage my whole life.

I used that spending money on things like alcohol even at 14 YO.
Didn’t socialize much as I was working when others were at proms and such.
Didn’t date much as I was working. OK being a little on the ugly side didn’t help.

As far as college prep and such, I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. So I joined the military after high school. I did start college when I was 24 YO and got out of the military with two associates, one BS and a dual Masters degree.

As far as the McJob preventing me from getting ready for my career, my current career path wasn’t even around back then.

Of course I’m a statistical sample of one.

I am not a social scientist, but I googled some things and found this article.

If you’re looking for conclusions one way or the other, you’ll be disappointed. I will point out that the article says,

So expect a bunch of anecdotes from people who say “I worked as a teenager and it was great!” But that’s not particularly helpful in answering the question. The article goes on to summarize the negative view of teenage employment.

I’m also curious about whether there’s a factual answer.

Having reread the OP a few times…

There are MANY intermediate steps that you’re missing. I’d agree that once you’re an adult, you can leave such jobs off your resume, if you can explain what else you were doing. But before you get to that point, I think these jobs will raise your odds of actually getting that foot-in-the-door job, or being allowed to do research. These things are very competitive, and grades are NOT the only edge to getting them.

According to thisstudy by the Boston Fed having a job as a teenager is correlated with having a higher income after graduating, and longer periods of unemployment. The relationship may not be causal though.

Maybe it’s because I’m from a country and generation who were expected to learn at their school’s curricular activities, but I know several people who were motivated to study by having lousy teenage jobs. A summer picking fruit did two very important things for one of my brothers: it gave him a lifelong hate of peaches and apricots and the motivation to get an engineering degree.

He still works outdoors, but he’s usually the one bossing the rest around, he’s not itching all over and work doesn’t begin before sunup.

As someone who has employed college students part-time for fairly low-level accounting and office jobs, I’ll just say that a student with a McJob on the resume looks a lot better to me than one without it. At least the guy with the McJob has (maybe) learned lessons like “You should come to work on time” and “Your mommy doesn’t work here.”

I’m not really sure that this translates into anything long-term after they graduate, though. These are pretty basic skills that you’d pick up in any first job, whenever that is. By the time you’re climbing the corporate ladder, it may not matter.

Work experience for teenagers is extremely valuable and gives those that have had it a step up when competing for other types of jobs while in college (intenships, etc.) and coming out of college. Future employers know they have experience having responsbility, meeting a schedule, working as a subordinate, etc.

What’s the OP’s alternative? That there be no jobs available for teens?

Oh and I think this clearly should be in IMHO, as there is no factual answer.

I agree. There’s nothing special about a job at McDonalds. But it teaches you the basics of how to have a job. For some people those basics can seem so obvious they shouldn’t need to be taught but that isn’t true. Most teenagers need to learn them at some point and some people go their whole life without learning how to hold a job.

I think the OP’s alternative is McJobs vs school activities. A high school student only has a certain amount of time available outside of class, and the question is how the benefits that the student might acquire from working at a McJob compare to that acquired by spending time in other ways, such as participation in extracurricular activities, study/homework, hobbies, volunteer work, etc.

I think a McJob can be valuable depending on the circumstances. One interesting case where this was so was the case of this Jamaican guy, mon who ended up working retail at a store in the Bronx. It just so happened that the store was in a predominantly Jewish and Yiddish-speaking neighborhood, so the guy ended up learning Yiddish on the job. While it looks like his level of fluency has been exaggerated by some, the fact that an African-American can converse in the language has surely made him memorable and could easily have opened up doors, either directly through employment opportunities or indirectly through the relationships built.

I got my first professional job based largely on my high school job experience even though I didn’t plan it that way. I worked for three years in the local supermarket often working near full-time or more even during the school year. A few years later, after graduating college, I was looking to get into the IT field and got an interview at the corporate headquarters of a New England supermarket chain for a position that required business as well as systems knowledge. They asked me all about my hands-on supermarket experiences and said that they liked to hire their corporate people out of people that had store experience just like the CEO did. Even though this was 2000 miles away from where I grew up, the base knowledge was the same. I was hired on the spot after the first interview.

The main reason I worked so much in high school was that I liked being financially independent (I was from the age of 15 on) and staying away from home as much as possible. Working virtually all the time I wasn’t in school or sleeping accomplished that quite well. Even minimum wage is plenty of money for a responsible teenager to live well on as long as you work a lot of hours. I had a new vehicle, nice clothes and whatever else I wanted to buy. If you could have found me a sports team or a drama club or something that paid in cold, hard cash, then we may have talked but otherwise, no.

I don’t ever make fun of anyone for having a McJob or any other kind though. They are no better or know worse than any other job. All jobs, even professional ones, are essentially the same when you look them objectively from a distance.

While there may be factual answers, they can be found in IMHO as well as GQ. All the opions that will be offered certainly belong in IMHO. Moved.

samclem, moderator

I really wish I wouldn’t have worked during college. I didn’t need the money, all it did was give me extra money for concerts, bars, beer, and CDs. I wish I would have spent more time studying and doing more school related activities.

i finally quit working, not exactly by choice, half way through my junior year. My grades shot up and I became involved with a couple of groups on campus. I made friends who were a positive influence on me.

The years I spent working are mostly a blur to me, late nights in the restaurants, the occasional party that started at 1 AM, and lots of time skipping class or barely awake enough to comprehend what was going on.

I honestly don’t think I learned a damn about responsibility. The only thing I learned was when the going got tough, step outside for a smoke.

I worked at McDonald’s the summer between my junior and senior years in high school. It wasn’t “to give me valuable work experience”, although it did that. It was because my dad said there was no way I could spend all summer lying on the couch and watching TV. "Get a job or else, " he said.

Dang…what’s the point of being the boss?

I didn’t mind working at McDonalds for three years, or at the arcade for three years. It taught me a lot, mostly that it can be crappy working in such places. Now when I go to places like that I remember what it’s like and I sure as hell don’t give any employee any gruff at all. I know mistakes can happen, one can have a bad day, and the job sucks.

Yeah, the job sucks, but there are pluses to working in such a place.

I worked three jobs while in college usually at the same time. One was a paid internship in a neuroscience lab, the other was as an administrative assistant to an academic department and the other was working catering for fancy weddings in a beautiful hotel nights and weekends. I had a full scholarship to school but my parents were broke at the time so I had to fund everything personally related myself.

Ironically, the internship in a neuroscience lab was the least valuable to me financially or otherwise in the long term, the the administrative assistant job taught me skills that I still use today and the catering and bartending job was the most fun and paid the most by far (as long as you could put up with the gay boss sexual harassment).

I haven’t seen anyone including the OP give the obvious answer as to why people work jobs while they are in school. The answer is simple - some people need the money desperately even in high school and, more commonly, in college. Not everyone has parents that fund teenage or young adult needs even at the basic level let alone the desired ones. Some teenagers even need to make money to support their families. I never did that and never would but it happens. I would like to say that I would have given as much effort to extracurricular activities as a paying job but I know that isn’t true deep inside my soul. People have repeatedly told me that I am the hardest working white boy they have ever seen but I am lazy at heart. Take the money away and I will do exactly jack shit and that is just the way it is.

Working so much never hurt me academically. I am like an on or off switch. I made close to a 4.0 GPA while I was doing it and made it into some of the best schools. It is exhausting though and not a lifestyle for someone who wants a more balanced approach.

Imho, working at mcjobs helps keep kids in college. If I have any kids, I’m going to make them work in a mcjob for a year after high school so they don’t waste a cent of college tuition.