How Do You Tell Your Kid a Minimum Wage Job Is a Bad Idea?

struggles of minimum wage jobs

We all know that people who work minimum wage almost always get the shaft. Either from low income, no sick days, or companies sending jobs overseas because someone in Laos will work for 10 cents an hour, employees who work in low wage jobs face more struggles than those with higher earning potential. As my daughter grows and gets more curious about the word, I am finding myself having to answer a harder and broader range of questions.  Recently, I’ve had to explain what the tampon machine in the public restroom was for, and I’ve had to offer comments on many a tattoo we’ve unfortunately seen in the swimming pool locker room. However, I was a bit stumped last week when she asked me if being a cashier at the grocery store was a good job. How do you tell your kid a minimum wage job is a bad idea?

Blue Collar Roots

My first knee jerk reaction when she asked about the cashier job was to say “NOOOOOO Way!” but am I being a snob? My Mom worked as a grocery store cashier for years when I was a kid. I know it caused her all sorts of back problems and child care arrangement nightmares, but it was an honest, hard working job. We all need to eat, and for most of us that requires grocery stores with employees.

I know my Mom was proud of her job at the grocery store, but she used every opportunity to tell my sister and I to go to college. She always regretted not having a marketable skill to fall back on if something were to happen to my Dad. Luckily, she never had to support us on her own, but I know it worried her because her earning potential was minimal.

College Isn’t For Everyone But You Still Need Skills

With the present amount of student loan debt in the US over a trillion dollars, it’s easy to understand why some people just want to get a job instead of racking up debt that might or might not amount to a brighter future. Since Jim and I both went to college, I think it’s a natural path for our daughter, but I certainly wouldn’t recommend attending college without some sort of plan for how you intend to make your degree marketable. I know that flies in the face of doing what makes you happy, but having a crushing amount of student loan debt without a high paying job certainly wouldn’t make anyone happy.

I think there are lots of well paying career options that don’t require a college degree. You can look around the blogosphere to confirm that,  but the people who can become entrepreneurs share certain characteristics. They are smart, organized, willing to hustle, able to multi-task,  and think outside the box. They also have the stamina and courage to walk away from traditional ways of earning income after making sure a proper safety net of emergency savings in in place. Not everyone has those capabilities or chooses to use them, and a low wage job might be all they can hope for.

What Did I Tell My Daughter About Being a Store Clerk?

What I finally told my daughter was that being a grocery clerk was a hard working job and there was nothing wrong with that. I also told her that I worked as a clerk at a convenience store during college and at some other crappy jobs along the way. I didn’t like it because I had to work odd hours, it was boring, and the job didn’t pay very much money. It was a good way to earn a little income when I didn’t have lots of bills, but I certainly would never want to do that my whole life.

I said that going to college or training for a job that not everyone can do gives you more freedom and pays better. If you don’t have any real training, your job opportunities are pretty limited. I also told her to ask her Granny about being a grocery clerk. I’m sure my Mom will jump right back into the “finish your education” mantra she drilled into me as a child.

If you work as a store clerk, this post is not meant to demean or criticize your job in any way. Full time workers get benefits, paid time off, and the right people can work their way into management or specialty positions. I’d much rather be working at the grocery store than panhandling for a meal. I also know from many of my family members how hard it is to work your whole life for low wages, always doing what someone tells you to do, without much creative input or ability to advance. I think it would be a hard life, and I don’t want that for my kid.

Do you think we should encourage our kids to simply get a job or aim for a better paying career? If you work in a low wage job, are you happy with your position?  



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Written By
Sydney White is a Texas-born stay at home mom who enjoys spending time with her family, bargain hunting and, of course, writing. She is currently the editor-in-chief of


  1. I would never tell my kids that any kind of work was below them, and will do my best to instill in them the value of hard work. Having said that, along with working hard goes working smart, and I hope they end up loving academia and intellect for it´s own sake as much as my husband and I do.

  2. I agree with Holly. Young people should work low-wage jobs for a bit. The most obvious reason is that it’ll make them want to get better paying jobs, which will motivate them to get more education or training.

    But it will make them better appreciate people who are stuck in low-wage jobs. They’ll realize just how much work these people are doing, which will make them less likely to denigrate the working poor.

    1. There is a big difference between those working low wage jobs while pursuing education or training in a more high paying field and those who are lifers. I always really liked the coworkers I met when I was doing that, but I also felt really sorry that was the end of the road for them and there wasn’t much to look forward to as far as advancement.

  3. I think the problem these days is that kids think they deserve the best job from the start and think minimum wage jobs are beneath them. There’s nothing wrong with working your way up … even if you did go to college! I personally know quite a few people who work at Costco and love it. They’ve been working there for years and actually do quite well for themselves. I don’t think any less of their positions then I do of my hubby’s, who has his masters and admin certificate.

    That being said, we are encouraging our kids to go to college but I’m hoping they will have a focused plan and realize it’s okay to start out in a minimum wage job!

    1. My sister in law had a really good job at Safeway for years as a meat cutter, which was a union job. She quit to stay home with her kids, but the benefits and salary were as good as what Jim made as a teacher. I think you can make a career if you stick with it and have the smarts for moving into management, but so many of the people who start off at minimum wage don’t have those skills to advance.

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