David R. Henderson  

My First Seven Jobs

Fama versus Thaler... What I Fail to Realize...

Various friends on Facebook have been posting about their first 7 jobs, but typically without comment. What I would find more interesting, and I encourage you to give your own, is a list of the jobs along with something about them: whether you liked the job, what you learned, etc.

paper delivery.jpg

Here are my 7, in chronological order.

1. Finding golf balls in the rough and selling them (age 8 to 11). Self-employment. I loved it, mainly because of the flexible hours and partly because of the excitement of the hunt. I could quit whenever I wanted. When I had enough money to buy an "Oh, Henry" candy bar and to listen to Johnny Horton's "Battle of New Orleans" n times on the juke box, I would stop. A lot of the golfers were American. Why is that relevant? At the time, the Canadian dollar floated against the U.S. dollar. Some summers, the Canadian dollar was worth as much as 5 cents more. If the golfer asked me if I would accept U.S. money, I said yes, as long as he added 5 percent. Some times, the Canadian dollar was worth as much as 5 cents less. If the golfer asked me if I accepted U.S. dollars, I said yes.
I still can't walk in the rough of a golf course without feeling with my feet and looking down.

2. Caddying at Minaki Lodge golf course (age 9 to 10). I learned early on that the money was steadier than hunting golf balls but the expected value was lower. So I didn't do it much.

3. Newspaper delivery (age 11 or 12.) I lasted a month. Hated it more than any other job I ever had. One time when it had rained heavily on my route, which included a new block with no lawns, the yards I tracked through to get the newspaper to the doors were pure mud. It was so thick that both of my rubber boots came off.

4. Baby sitting (age 11 to 13). The main kids I baby sat were David and Bradley Henderson (no relation), living kitty corner. The 25 cents per hour was the easiest money I made because the kids were well-behaved and the parents liked to go out relatively late and stay out way late. So the kids were in bed within half an hour of their parents' leaving. I read or watched TV.

5. Garbage pick up at Syl's Drive in in Carman (age about 12 to 13). He paid me 50 cents per morning. I would get up at about 6:30 a.m. and ride my bike one minute to his drive in. I picked up trash in his lot and burned it, along with the trash in the trash cans. But before doing so, I would take my bike 3 blocks and pick up trash on both sides of the road that had come from his drive-in. This kept the neighbors, including my family, happy. Quentin Sylvester, the owner, taught me something early on about internalizing externalities. Also, occasionally I would find coins or, very rarely, a dollar bill on the ground.

6. Tutoring French and Math to a friend named Rick Verner (age 14). One dollar an hour. His father paid me to tutor him one summer at Minaki. Good money; some laughs since he and I were friends.

7. Snow shoveling and lawn mowing (ages 11 to about 14).

I see above that my first 7 jobs got me to age 14. In other words, this is a story about child labor. I learned something from each job. The only one I disliked was newspaper delivery, although caddying came close, and the one I liked most is a tie between hunting golf balls and garbage pick up.

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CATEGORIES: Labor Market

COMMENTS (5 to date)
Jonathan S writes:

Background: born in 1987 and raised in Colorado

Only paid work, not unpaid

1. Soccer referee (ages 14-19). My parents made me start working as soon as I legally could, signing me up for soccer referee certification (I had played soccer since I was 5). Being a referee paid well, about $20-30/hour. I only worked Saturdays (and an occasional Sunday) and would work about 6-8 hours. I was happy to work just a few hours a week to earn the same amount of money as my friend who worked every evening at Baskin Robbins. I only refereed the younger kids until I was 18 when I started refereeing older kids. The age of the kids didn't matter, the parents and coaches all yelled the same insults at me. Being a referee taught me to have extremely thick skin for a teenager, but definitely didn't help with self-confidence. By the time I hit 19, I decided the insults weren't worth the money anymore.

2. Kitchen assistant (ages 20-21). I lived in a dorm in college that needed student help in the kitchen. It was pretty boring and we weren't making very delicious foods, but I was just happy to make some cash so I could take my girlfriend on dates. I worked about 20 hours/week and only made $7.50/hour.

3. Concert hall usher (ages 20-22). I worked at my college's auditorium where I got paid to watch performances, lectures, and debates. If the event was slow or boring I would just do homework on the job because no one cared. I enjoyed this job more than any other, but the hours were limited and the pay was low. I worked about 4 hours/week and made $7.25/hour.

4. Urban planning intern (age 23). I went to graduate school for urban planning and got an internship in the summer between my first and second years of school. It was my first office job, but I was pleased by the amount of time I got to spend outside of the office. It was 40 hours/week and paid $10/hour, which seemed pretty good for an internship in 2010 in the wake of the recession.

5. Urban planner (ages 24-25). My internship from the previous summer led to a 1-year temporary position. I accepted the position because I didn't get offers from anyone else after I finished grad school. The work was slower and more boring than my internship with the same organization, but I got paid $20/hour for 40 hours/week.

6. "Researcher" (age 25). I knew that my previous position was going to end and some friends of mine were planning a trip to canoe the Mississippi River immediately after. They had secured sponsorships and stipends from a now-defunct non-profit to "conduct research" along the river. My friends invited me to join them and since I wasn't getting job offers from anyone else I decided to join them. This was probably the greatest summer of my life, getting to canoe from the headwaters to the Gulf of Mexico with my best friends. Somehow my relationship with my now-wife survived despite her being in rural India during the same time period and not really having access to telecommunications.

7. Graduate Assistant (ages 26-present). I had a hard time finding work after my canoe trip so I applied to PhD programs in urban planning around the country. I got into 1 out of the 9 schools I applied to, so that made my decision easy. I'm only supposed to work 20 hours/week for my GA-ship which covers tuition and gives me $25,000/year, but I end up working more than 40 hours/week while also doing coursework and meeting degree requirements. I'm not a huge fan of the work I do for the GA-ship, but it is keeping a pulse on my resume and building my quantitative research skills. The job requires a lot of travel, so my frequent flyer and hotel points accounts are overflowing.

john hare writes:

Born 1956

0. Age 7-11 work for family unpaid. Nailing metal roof, Hoeing weeds, sorting fruit, etc.

1. Age 7-11 looking for pop bottles at $0.02 each and later $0.03 each. Made enough for an occasional coke or comic book.

2. Age 8-11 Picking pecans from various trees and selling them at feed mill. Wages were occasional cokes or comic books.(decades later wonder if it was really theft)

3. Age 11-12 Worlds Fair 1968 in San Antonio. Working games on commission, except that parents got the money.

4. Age 12-15 Carnival games on commission after dropping out 6th grade. Sometimes got to keep some of the money.

5. Age 14-16 Carnival off season in winter so picked oranges. Paid by the box and started keeping the money at 16.

6. Age 16 Family business attempts commercial fishing, scraping cars and other stuff I've forgotten during orange off season. No pay.

7. Age 16-17 Stacked sod at $2.00 pallet. Take home $160.00-$180.00 after learning good technique. Allowing for inflation, it was killer money for non-skilled work.

Worked for free a lot when younger, and didn't like it. Started liking the work when I got to keep the money even though there were bills to pay.

A certain amount of bitterness when I realized later on that I had serious talent in several fields that require education. Reinforced by how easily I was able to get a GED and hold a high B average in engineering while working full time. Then quit community college as I couldn't see a useful end at the time. Stupid decision not mitigated by being surrounded by negative people at the time.

Yaakov writes:

This is not easy. It is very hard to remember the jobs and exactly at what age they were, but lets try. I assume one time tasks do not count. Do they? (At age 17 I spent a night packaging baby chicks)

1) Baby sitting - the first time we baby sat it was me and my sister in an empty house. We were very young and our neighbors had a wedding. They asked us to stay in the house so that nobody would take advantage of their absence. I remember being slightly frightened. There were many other baby sitting jobs, some included taking kids home from school and others were late in the evening. Some of the jobs I was able to get because I always gave precedence to babysitting over going to school. Others I got because they did not have a television, which made it long and boring.

2) Mail delivery. My older sisters worked for the post office since I was 6 years old. I sporadically joined them since when I was 10-11 and when i was 13-14 I believe I started to get to do the route once a week. They would do the sorting in the post office and I only did the delivery. Reading addresses in script was difficult.

3) Reading the Torah portion in Synagogue. Preparing for the reading took about 8-10 hours a week. I think when I was 15 I started this as a summer job with a classmate so each one of us read once every two weeks. We quit in the winter, because of school. The next summer I took the entire reading upon myself (you remember much of the preparation from one year to the next. It is a year cycle) and continued all year around. It was good money and gave me an in depth knowledge of the Torah. When I was about 22 we moved and since then I read the Torah as a volunteer. This was probably my best job.

4) Building the neighbor's Sukkah once a year for the Succos holiday. My older brother has good hands and so I inherited this job (and probably others I do not remember) from him, probably at age 15-16. I always got things wrong, but since I only had to put together and take apart what my brother built under the neighbor's instructions, I managed.

5) Working at a grocery (age 17, 3-4 months) after school, before joining the army I worked in a grocery stocking the shelves and helping with deliveries, etc. I taught myself to operate the cash-register and helped there when needed. This was a real job in the sense that there was a staff that you have to get along with.

6) Israeli defense forces (ages 18-21) - i am not sure being drafted into the army counts as a job, but I did get paid about $40 a month (1986-1989), with an extra 30 cents a month when I became a sergeant. I learned a lot about people, life, etc., and probably could have learned much more if I was more attentive. Mainly I spent my free time reading improving my English and studying the bible. Probably could fill a volume with thoughts about the experience. Never was a great army fan, but I cannot really complain either.

7) After the army I did a night shift in a factory producing bars for building permanent Sukkos. I remember when I got my pay I passed it all over to my father to put away in the bank, feeling I worked so hard for the money I do not want to waste any of it. The pay was about $2.5/hour but long hours allowed to accumulate a nice sum.

Ramon writes:

Now, someone from a third-world country (Mexico)

1) 10-18yo, Street vendor of bags, clothing, fruits and vegetables.
2) 18-20yo painting of houses and buildings and some electric work.
3) 20-24 Government employee (clerical).
4) 24-30 graduate student
5) 31-40 Profesor of Economics
6) 40-48 Regulatory Economist
7) 48-54 Head of a major regulatory body.

bobroberts170 writes:

I grew up in a town of 50,000 in the Midwest during the 1990's.

1. My folks paid my siblings and I to do chores starting when we were about 6 years old, but I'm not sure you can call that a job. We had the standard household duties like cleaning dishes, vacuuming and cleaning the toilet. We made $2 a week doing probably four hours of work a week. That was during the school year.

Come summer time dad would make a list of big jobs like painting the garage, tilling the garden, mowing the lawn or trimming the trees. Each of us would submit bids on these jobs and the lowest bidder would win. I would always bid low because I wanted the jobs and if you're 10 years old and getting paid $2 a week, $30 to paint the garage is big money. My sister would bid ridiculously high so she didn't have to do any of them and my brother usually picked up the jobs I didn't want, but actually got paid a fair amount. Dad was good at using incentives.

2. When I was about 14, I started getting good at playing the viola. Viola is just like playing the violin, but the music is way easier and competent players are hard to find in a town of 50,000. I was the only violist in my freshman class that practiced outside of class, so the instructor put me in a quartet with the two best violinists and cellist. People around town would call him and ask for a quartet to play and he would hook us up with paid gigs.

Also, because the local symphony needed violists, I got a seat there playing next to my instructor who also played viola. It never felt like a job. I got to be really good friends with the folks in the quartet and my instructor. Every symphony concert I made $150 and there were four to five concerts a year. The quartet gigs usually paid the group $150-$250 and we'd split it four ways. We did weddings, parties, and played at faculty meetings for the school district. One time we even got to play for the governor of the state at a local ball the city was hosting. My parents spent about $1500 for my viola, but I easily made that money back while I was in high school. Dad was very kind and let me keep it.

3. When I turned 16 I started working at a non-profit that sold secondhand items to provide employment for people with handicaps. My dad was the CFO at the non-profit, so he got me on board in their contracts division. Basically, companies in the area would send them work that was physically simple but difficult to automate. The employees with handicaps could work piece-rate and earn a wage below the minimum on an hourly basis.

The company had a big contract with an aircraft manufacturer sealing their aircraft insulation. Most of the parts were rectangular, but parts used in the lavatory or the cockpit were fairly complex. I was in charge of those parts and inspecting the parts made by the other employees.

4. I held that job for about 3 years off and on, but when 2008 hit, the contract work dried up and they moved me to sort through the donations. We would sort clothes, toys, trinkets and trash and then send them out to the stores for sale. That job was a blast.

The stuff people donate... we found an ammunition box with somebody's (probably deceased) birth certificate, SS card, passport, 30 years worth of bank statements, drivers licenses, the works. One time we found live hand grenades. That got us off work early and made the 6:00 news. We'd save batteries and "test" the RC cars and toys that got donated (have to know if they work!) We'd check pockets for change and would find about $3 every day that we'd take over to the Taco place next door for lunch. One time we found some collectable coins worth $10,000 in the donations.

The most fun part of that job was seeing how small but meaningful of work can transform a person. I got to watch people with mental disabilities who were prone to violent outbursts and were generally anti-social transform into happy, cheerful people. For the first time in their lives they were a part of a team accomplishing something. Sure it was a simple job like folding papers for the printer who's machine was down or cutting up old shirts to make shop rags. But being a part of something productive and getting paid changed those peoples' lives. Meaningful work is a powerful self-esteem builder. It teaches cooperation and ingenuity. That job taught me that everyone can contribute, and that nobody is "unemployable".

5. After that job I started engineering school. I'm not too bright so I couldn't hold down a job and do the homework at the same time, so for two summers I worked at Wal-Mart as a cashier. That was a fun job, too, but I think it was because I knew it was temporary. I'm fairly personable, so customer service was a good fit. It was a pretty versatile job, sometimes I'd be a door greeter, sometimes we'd stock shelves in the slow afternoons, sometimes we'd go get carts from the lot, which I really enjoyed because that was good exercise.

My favorite part of that job was walking into the store and hearing the beeping of the cash registers. Two to three times a second there'd be a beep. Near holidays that store would clear $1M in revenue and sometimes I'd have to step back and just bask in the beauty of it. These are amazing times we live in, where you can get tomatoes in January and a laptop computer for $100. Sometimes my wife and I will be walking into Wal-Mart and I'll stop and ask her if she hears that sound. "What sound?" she'll ask. "Prosperity, honey. That's what prosperity sounds like."

6. About 2011 I got an internship at a small manufacturing company in town. They made metal blasting machines, and I was in charge of writing their operation manuals. I didn't particularly enjoy that work, but they'd let me design small chain guards or fixes to machines that had problems on occasion. It was a family owned business and they were very poorly managed on the engineering side of things. Customers would call in and ask for a replacement part and we'd spend more time trying to find a drawing of the part than we did making the part. Overall it was very educational but also a little stressful.

Efficient manufacturing is hard and functioning organizations are special. At first I thought that the place was just disorganized and if the right people wrote stuff down and followed processes properly things would work great. A few months into the job I asked one of the engineers why we didn't make an effort to be more organized. He said "The people in charge think the cost of being organized here exceeds the benefits. It's cheaper to scramble to make a replacement part than it is to organize all 10,000 drawings at different revision levels we have on the server. That's what we pay you for." Fair enough.

7. In 2012 I graduated and got a job at the aircraft company I sealed insulation for. I work in manufacturing design, making tools to manufacture airplanes. It's a surprisingly political job that requires a lot of people skills. Everybody wants to do things their way and you have to make all of them happy while giving the production workers equipment that actually works (a lot of times what they think they want won't work). It's not high level engineering work but it's always interesting.

I've been very blessed to have people in my life that vouched for me and took chances on me, especially when I was a young engineering student/graduate. I went to school with a lot of kids that were way sharper than I that couldn't get their foot in the door because they didn't find a place like the small manufacturing firm that hired me. I do my best to pay it forward whenever I can.

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