It's every student's nightmare: The dream
internship falls through, the high-end jobs are
gone, and Uncle Dave's connection at Mega-Huge
Bank can't get you a gopher gig. What to do?
Well, if you're not too concerned about pride,
dignity, or big dollar signs, there's an easy fix
for the unemployed summertime blues.
Fear not. The dreaded minimum wage wipeout isn't
as bad as it seems, really. The truth is, the
minimum wage experience has improved tenfold
since we needed working papers and permission
slips back in high school. In fact, with a little
creative input and a ton of patience, minimum
wage warfare has numerous benefits to the student
For Betsy DeBoer, working summers during her days
at Rowan College in New Jersey provided neither
glamour nor grandeur. However, her duties were
fairly easy, and the free time she earned was
just as valuable to her as her paycheck. "I
waited tables and worked at a movie theater, and
both jobs gave me tons of free time and a lot of
time to work with my friends. And I never once
paid to see a movie."
However, waiting tables did have its downside,
she says. "Usually, it means your hourly pay is
lower than minimum wage, which is supplemented
with tips. But the place where I worked wasn't
that busy, so I'd often make less than I legally
The flexibility's good. But what about the social
implications? For Robyn Dunn, smalltime summer
employment helped her pay bills, make car
payments and pave the way to what she calls "a
better understanding" of people.
"I worked in two small neighborhood shops,
selling bagels and cakes," she says. "So I got to
meet a lot of the people in the area, which was
cool." The soon-to-be-bride sold a lot of wedding
cakes, too - a skill she's using now in planning
her very own wedding.
"Having that job helped me learn how to deal with
people, especially when it came to tiny little
details with their wedding cakes. I'm going
through that now, so I know how to better handle
So basically, there are two minimum wage job
categories: cool gigs that pay poorly and poor
jobs that pay pennies. An obvious example of the
latter is fast food work - but even that's
getting better, according to Lisa Howard,
spokeswoman for the McDonalds corporation.
"We don't have a national program for students,
per se, but our owner-operators have some really
great programs to attract people," Howard
says. "We offer bonuses, special outings for
students, and other incentives to work for us."
Howard also notes that fast food living - a
longtime butt of employment jokes - offers
students skills they can utilize in any career.
"It's very competitive out there right now,"
Howard says. "But working for McDonalds gives
students a sense of discipline, timeliness,
customer satisfaction and teamwork. That's
something they can use throughout their work
And before you suggestively sell that next apple
pie, keep this in mind: Minimum wage varies by
region. In fact, if minimum wage is in your
future and you happen to be in California, you're
in luck. The Santa Cruz city council is
considering a $13-an hour minimum wage, while
workers in San Jose currently enjoy the nation's
highest rate at $9.50 an hour. Los Angeleans make
a minimum of $7.39 an hour, while workers six
hours north in Oakland make at least $8.39. Sure,
the cost of living's higher?but chances are,
you're living at home.
Many states also have minimum wage numbers that
crush the government's mandatory low-point of
$5.15 an hour. The lowest a worker can earn in
Massachusetts is $6.00, while Oregon residents
enjoy $6.50 an hour for their services. Other
states that beat the federal minimum wage rate
include Vermont, Alaska, Washington and
On the flip side, several states allow business
to pay their employees lower than the federal
minimum. In Minnesota, for example, a company
that earns more than $500,000 a year must pay its
employees the federal minimum of $5.15. However,
companies earning below the half-million dollar
mark can pay employees as low as $4.90. In some
states, the actual size of a company dictates a
businesses lawful minimum wage.