Column: What was your worst-paid job?DULUTH — Parade Magazine’s annual “What people earn” edition (included in this past weekend’s Daily Globe) might give us a sense of accomplishment for making more than the 54-year-old part-time clown from Topeka, Kan., even if few will ever see in a lifetime what a single-named British singer takes home in three months.
By: Robin Washington, Duluth News Tribune, Worthington Daily Globe
DULUTH — Parade Magazine’s annual “What people earn” edition (included in this past weekend’s Daily Globe) might give us a sense of accomplishment for making more than the 54-year-old part-time clown from Topeka, Kan., even if few will ever see in a lifetime what a single-named British singer takes home in three months.
But that doesn’t mean you want everyone to know exactly where between $2,500 and $32 million your take-home pay lies. So to make everyone feel better, I asked readers to share the worst-paid job they ever had, with the idea that things could only have gotten better.
Duluth boxer Al Sands, who probably is paid by the punch these days, easily related.
“The worst job I had was selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door,” he said. “I was fresh out of high school and saw an ad in the paper for a sales position earning up to $400 a week.”
After training, Sands said in three weeks he was told he was one of the top sellers and eligible for a trip to Vegas.
“I was very excited,” he said. “I asked for my paycheck, and the owner gave me $50.”
So much for that gamble. Duluth historian and publisher Tony Dierckins said he had to take a different kind of risk at a St. Paul golf course in 1998.
“The course had an ancient pump and pipe system that required someone to physically attach and detach the sprinklers,” he said. “Each time I did, I was doused with water. So I averaged roughly 360 brief cold showers each night and was paid $5.50 per hour.”
Better than what fast food was paying then, according to Katrina Carter of Duluth.
“$4.60 an hour,” she said. “Never worked so hard in my life! Pretty sure that wasn’t minimum wage.”
She’s right; it was $5.15, though some restaurant workers may have been exempt. Also farm workers.
“Unloading and stacking hay in the neighbor’s barn. 15 cents a bale,” reports the DNT’s Eric Olson, also referring to 1998. “5 cents per bale while unloading the wagon. 10 cents a bale for stacking in the barn. I could unload a 200-bale wagon in about two hours. Good money for a kid.”
Better than what Duluth’s Bethany Dooley got on the strawberry farm.
“We got paid 50 cents per pound,” she said. “It was cold and wet, and the days started so early!”
If farm workers got paid by the bushel or the peck, they could be thankful it wasn’t the piecework tallied by my high school classmate, Tom Krajecki of Chicago.
“Ambulance driver. $2.30 per hour and 80 cents a body,” he said. “Overtime was $3.45 and $1.20 a body.”
That body count probably was easier to figure out than Jerry Fredrickson’s score.
“I was a pinsetter at a bowling alley earning 8 cents a line in 1959,” the owner of Duluth’s Horseshoe Bar said.
“If you stayed on the job long enough to set 1,000 lines of bowling, you got a bonus of 2 cents a line for the 1,000 lines. Nobody ever collected the bonus. The owner would always fire you for some reason and hire you back later but start your bonus-line history all over.”
Bad bosses aside, low wages don’t necessarily mean the job is lousy. Back on the farm, Stacie Liz Dahl says she fed and groomed horses, mucked stalls and loaded and drove the truck.
“I got paid less than a dollar an hour for all of it. Not bad experience but very bad pay.”
And that’s the point, resonating with my own experience: $1.50 an hour as a movie theater usher when the federal minimum was $1.60. We too were told we were exempt, but even if they couldn’t spring for that measly dime, I still know “The Conversation,” “A Touch of Class” and “The Day of the Dolphin” by heart, having seen them all 120 times.
Drive-in theater worker Jim Mohn did even better.
“In 1964, I worked as a ‘field boy,’ ” said the former Duluthian now in Montana. “Open the gates, direct traffic, run errands for the snack bar, usher traffic out and turn out the lights and lock the gates. I was paid $2.50 for about seven hours work. About 35 cents an hour, not counting popcorn, candy and soda.
“Oh, yes,” he added. “Many years later, I married the company owner. All is well.”
Low-pay, but priceless.
Robin Washington is editor of the News Tribune. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.