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May. 30 2010 - 6:41 pm | 271 views | 2 recommendations | 8 comments

Hey, Rich Kids! Work Retail, Learn The Value Of A Dollar. Not.

A Range Rover car is pictured in central Londo...

Image by AFP/Getty Images via @daylife

This is the sort of story that makes me want to throw a chair. From today’s New York Times:

Steven D. Hayworth, chief executive of Gibraltar Private Bank and Trust, is thrilled that his daughter will be working this summer at a women’s clothing store before heading to college in the fall. It is not the particular job that pleases Mr. Hayworth. Rather, he is hoping his daughter will make the connection between how much she earns each day and what that will buy.

“As a parent who has worked his whole life and has had a little bit of success in my career, one of the huge life lessons I learned early on is the value of a dollar,” said Mr. Hayworth, whose bank is based in Coral Gables, Fla. “Particularly for children of upper-middle-class and affluent families, there’s no perspective on value. When the new Range Rover pulls into the driveway, there’s no concept of how many hours of hard work went into owning that vehicle.”]

Unlike many collegebound children today, Mr. Hayworth’s daughter would have had no worries if she had not been able to find a job. She could have spent the summer by the pool knowing her parents had the money to put her through college.

I’m finishing my book this month, a memoir of working retail in a national chain of stores for two years and three months, part-time, for $11/hour. However much little Miss Hayworth learns from slumming it for a while on the sales floor, I doubt she’s going to learn “the value of a dollar” from crossing over to the dark side of the cash wrap

She doesn’t need the money. She’s taking work away from someone — maybe one of the millions of workers over 40 or 50 or 55 who can’t even get a job interview in their field or industry, even with decades of experience — who does.

Yeah, a little rich kid showing up to please Daddy is going to fit in just great with a group of co-workers who know the value of a dollar because they count every single one they earn. They may have many kids or be single moms or be putting themselves through college or, as were three of my colleagues, be working retail despite a prior criminal record, making it really tough to get any job.

Rich kids think work is sorta cute. Something to do before they head off the Hamptons for the weekend or start Harvard med school or head off on Mummy’s yacht.

A Range Rover costs $78,425 to $94,275. At a median national retail wage of about $8, she’d be working full-time for five years if she didn’t, like people who really need her job, have pesky stuff like rent, food, car  payments, insurance or student debt.

In the world of investment banking, $78,425 is pocket money.

You want to teach kids what a Prada/Range Rover/pair of Manolos really costs? Send ‘em far away from home, so they’re paying the real cost of housing and commuting to that job. Make sure it’s the only job they can get. Make ‘em stay in it for a full year, including the holidays.

They’ll still have no idea — because they’ll be too tired to shop and too intimidated to go into a store full of expensive shit they can’t afford. Many of our customers drove Range Rovers. They were some of the most spoiled, nasty, entitled people you could imagine.

I worked retail with two kids, both in their early 20s, one of whom stayed barely  three months who was clearly from a well-off family. Not an unpleasant guy, but his sole raison ‘detre was scooping up as much of our product at the healthy employee discount as possible. The money, as anyone working retail knows, is low and the work both physically and emotionally grueling.

Playing poor is an insult to those who really are. Playing poor is no joke to those earning poverty-level wages selling overpriced crap to the rich.

She won’t last a month — because she won’t have to.


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  1. collapse expand

    The experience won’t hurt her though, and I don’t think you have to worry that this is going to become chic with the jet setting kids, relax. Agree some, but gotta give her some credit too.

  2. collapse expand

    That reminds me of my first job working in a music store. It was one of those family-run places, and when the owner’s second-oldest started college, he started her working at the desk. Yes sweetie, when the phones are ringing, you need to pick them up. No you can’t go over the manager’s head on stuff, his word is law. At least I could shut myself up in the repair cave upstairs and repair instruments for that summer. Yay for $7 an hour working with noxious chemicals :)

  3. collapse expand

    Joey, what if you needed that job? Or your kid? Surely there are other ways for her to learn. There is also no correlation between “hard work” and a $78k car because bankers make enough that a RR is about 10 minutes’ labor.
    The most useful piece will be serving the rich — and seeing how it feels to be on the receiving end of their entitlement. It is instructive.

  4. collapse expand

    I don’t get your logic here. Should these kids also stop eating because there are people who don’t get enough food?

    Not every middle class or affluent family is permissive with their kids and some want them to understand that money surely doesn’t grow on trees. Some of us even believe conspicuous consumption is loathsome and so to paint this rather broad group with the Range Rover brush is somewhat disingenuous. Sure there are a limited number of unskilled jobs that teenagers/college-aged students can take which may mean someone less fortunate may miss out. But instead we should just hand over money we earned to our kids so they continue to live off the safety net we provide? (See your fellow columnist Claudia Deutch’s post today: one I wholeheartedly agree with.) Not making your kids work hard for what they have is, in my opinion, feeding into this generation’s notion of entitlement. I don’t want my kids believing they will be supported by me indefinitely. Work, and getting paid for that work, builds self-confidence and independence, not to mention giving them a glimpse into what it takes to get to a lifestyle to which they’ve become accustomed. Are there spoiled brats out there who have had everything handed to them? Of course. Always have been; always will be. But my values, and those of many people I know, includes a strong work ethic–one that demonstrates privileges are earned, not given.

  5. collapse expand

    imho, thanks for such a long comment. Lots to respond to here…

    I don’t see this as binary — either you sponge off your parents indefinitely (not an option) or are spoiled and never work. I have no understanding at all of parents who let their kids stay home for years or move back home unless they are practically destitute. I was never once given that option so you figure it out, fast.

    I agree that every kid needs to work hard…but “for what they have” is the piece that doesn’t work when it comes to low-wage jobs. I did that job; that is what my book is about. It’s a dead-end job. It will teach some kids patience and tolerance (if they have an aptitude for it) but it also teaches them to fit tidily into the corporate machinery at risible wages. Which is certainly a lesson in itself.

    Every kid should work, not just at a job a relative gets for them. But I found this notion of sending a super-rich kid into one of the toughest jobs out there pretty silly. What exactly do you think she WILL learn there? She’s either a responsible person by now, or not. Why is a poorly paid job the only way to learn that?

    You can also teach a kid to handle money responsibly at 14; I learned it by getting a clothing allowance at that age. I life-guarded all through high school for my own wages; my family had money. Did all that work on my own teach me anything I didn’t already know? Not really.

    The only place I really learned about money and work was freelancing — watching all the ways people will try to get you cheap and still rip you off is highly instructive. I learned that at 19 and began learning how to protect my income, my savings and investments and negotiate better pay. I was living on my own, so every penny was money I needed to survive and pay for college.

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    About Me

    Former reporter and feature writer for the Globe and Mail, Montreal Gazette and the New York Daily News. Winner of a Canadian National Magazine Award (humor) about -- what else -- my divorce. I've been writing frequently for The New York Times since 1990 on almost any subject you can think of -- yup, I'm a generalist. Author of "Blown Away: American Women and Guns" (Pocket Books 2004). Canadian born, raised and formally educated, I've lived in New York since 1989.

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    I’m writing my second book, a memoir for Portfolio/Penguin, of working retail in a suburban mall for more than two years. My 11 Reporting Tips from daily newspaper veterans appears in the May issue of The Writer magazine.

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