Old fashioned entry-level jobs

I was having a discussion today about first jobs, entry-level jobs, and “when I was a youngster” type stories.

Someone mentioned that in Oregon and New Jersey they have people pump gas at gas stations. Why? Back when I was a kid, and gas was well under a buck a gallon, not only would they pump your gas- but they’d check the oil, washer fluid and even your tire pressure. Some of them were high school kids, others- were old guys. Every day in grade school I walked past the Shell station on Lee Rd. four times a day- and I’d wave and say hi to “Smiley”- who had to be a grandpa- and was pumping gas. By the time I was in high school, Smiley was gone- and we were pumping our own gas, albeit without a hold-open lever.

A bunch of brothers named Barrett, used to work at the Sohio station. By the time I came home from the Army, one of them ran it. Besides pumping gas, they worked on cars. Now the corner mechanic is a thing of the past.

A lot of kids got their first jobs as baggers at grocery stores. Sure we still have baggers, but back then, it was different. You might push your own cart out the door- but then you’d leave the cart with your purchases at the corral, and they’d give you a plastic disc with a number on it- that you’d hang on the window- and pull back up- and a youngster would load your bags into your car. Not only did carts never get stolen, they also did bash your car in the lot. And kids had jobs.

We all remember paper routes, well those of us who are pushing the half-century mark. Budding entrepreneurs were given a block or two as their local territory. You’d deliver the papers every day according to different instructions. Some inside the screen door, others in a paper box, some up the stairs- or around back. Once a week you’d go knock on doors and hope to get paid. Checks, cash, and it was almost an honor system since almost all paid the carrier instead of having a subscription. It was a very personal relationship. I’m pretty sure many people “bought” the paper just like many buy Girl Scout cookies- just to keep a kid employed. I had favorites on my route. Some would offer me a cookie almost every time I collected. One old guy was a camera collector- he had hundreds of split 35mm cameras. I’d never heard of or seen one before- and he had them all. It was always fun to have him show me his latest acquisition.

My father always talked about being an usher at a movie theater. He, and his friend Johnny Bowles, used to see all the movies that way. I barely remember that job being around when I was old enough to go to the movies.

Now, kids even have a hard time finding jobs in fast food. There are adults competing for those jobs- even seniors, trying to make it on their meager Social Security checks. I’ve had a bunch of kids come through my office via the Montgomery County YouthWorks program, where our government pays for them to make $8 an hour to job shadow, and intern, despite having limited job skills. Right now I’m graced with two awesome young ladies who are both cheerleaders. Their enthusiasm to learn, to experience, to participate is inspiring. But, the sad thing is we are paying tax dollars to make it possible for them to experience jobs that will require them to go to at least two years of college, which is growing more expensive by the minute.

Not everyone is ready to be a college graduate. Not everyone can afford to be, with the amount of money it now costs to go. It’s time to look for ways to create more entry-level jobs – to stop subsidizing Wall Street and look to invigorate the entry-level job market. How can we reward companies for insourcing and creating entry-level workers?

Maybe it’s time to cut payroll taxes on entry-level workers or offer rebates for job creation, instead of tax breaks for promises of new jobs. We need to make it culturally cool to be the person who hires as many local people as possible, and take the pedestal away from those who outsource, offshore and exploit workers.

It’s time for a new version of old fashioned entry-level jobs. Suggestions?

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