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$2 Misunderstanding

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I listened to “Marketplace Money” this weekend. It’s the Saturday edition of the weekday show “Marketplace.” I usually enjoy both the daily and weekend versions.

This blog is two things — first it’s a blog and, second, a listener comment.

On last Saturday’s show, there was a newly minted Dartmouth graduate mentioned who was allegedly unhappy: (1) because she had done all the right things and gotten through the educational system, and there was no job for her skillset available; and (2) because she was making, she said, something like $2 hourly as a server in a restaurant.  

Forget for a moment that she actually has a job and is unhappy. There are millions out of work, and she is not one of them. But that’s not my problem with the “Marketplace Money” piece, nor with her.

As to the salary, no, no and no again! Yes, she might be paid $2 hourly by the restaurant, but, unless she is the most hapless server in her community, she has to be making more, lots more. Servers live on tips, not on the $2 hourly wage. (Restaurants are allowed to pay low wages because of tips. Most restaurants could not exist if the minimum hourly wage had to be paid. Indeed, good restaurant food at reasonable prices is dependent on low-paid workers.)

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Servers in Tulsa, Okla., may earn $25,000 to $40,000 yearly, when tips are combined with the hourly wage. Earnings in major cities are almost certainly higher than they are in Tulsa. (I don’t really know where the Dartmouth grad lives. Maybe there is a community in the United States that doesn’t tip at all, and she’s there, but I doubt it). 

As to working in a less-than-glamorous job: in my years in the workplace, I’ve been a drug store clerk, U.S. Navy journalist, dial-caliper company messenger/clerk, mail boy, newspaper reporter, restaurant server (in Manhattan at Downey’s, Sardi’s, Gallagher’s, O’Henry’s Feathers on Fifth and, for one night, Toots Shor’s), conga player, accountant, casino bingo runner, caller, casino cash counter, caption writer, house painter, magazine columnist and probably more. I enjoyed aspects of each and every job, although I confess to be being a pretty lousy house painter and only lasted a week or two in that job. Did I mention cab driver in NYC? I enjoyed that work, too, and am convinced that the dispatcher at my garage, although taller than Danny DeVito, was the model for DeVito’s part on the TV show “Taxi. I forgot that I once worked for Lufthansa, too; I still have my Lufthansa pin. Heck, I still have my (expired) hack license, for that matter. 

So, I think it’s a good thing that the Dartmouth graduate has a job, any kind of job, and I think she has one that will be of great value throughout her working life. There’s nothing like waiting tables to teach you how to get along with grouchy bosses (chefs and cooks are famously not the happiest workers on earth) and touchy customers. If she doesn’t master the art of getting good tips and getting along well with others in the high-pressure food service world, I have no faith that she will do well when she graduates from the Graduate School of Hard Knocks. I’m here to tell her that it’s a great school, and I still remember the life lessons learned there, even after 44 years in my current job. 

Have a great week, and keep on working and enjoying whatever you do, okay?