In a recent article, former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich argues that jobs that pay under $15 an hour “aren’t worth keeping.” Unlike Mr. Reich, we work those jobs, and we think they are worth keeping.
One of us (Max) worked for three summers on a golf course in Montana during high school. The job paid $7.25-$9.50 an hour, and it built the soft skills that undergird Max’s identity as a professional—patience, the ability to forge strong client relationships, and a resilient work ethic. Similarly, Astrid paid part of her college tuition costs by working for $10-$11 an hour at a chiropractic office and a tax preparation firm. Besides being able to graduate with much less debt than if she had been unemployed, Astrid learned how to balance school and work, and something of the value of each.
Neither of us has had to feed a family on $10 an hour, and we have the utmost respect for those who do. Moreover, we suspect that what is true for us—high-wage jobs require the experience and skills gained in low-wage jobs—also holds true for our coworkers who are breadwinners. Working evenings on the golf course or days in the chiropractor’s office may not put you on the fast track to a 5th Avenue penthouse, but these seemingly menial jobs serve a much larger purpose: setting the crucial foundation to starting a strong career and shaping the American dream. How are any of us supposed to achieve that dream if we’re not even allowed to start it?