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July 7, 2012

First job taught me value of a buck


Daily Star

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We all have our first-job stories. After mowing Grandma's lawn for a few years and caddying to pick up some pocket change, I was hired at a nursing home as a kitchen helper. It was the first time I earned a paycheck that included deductions for Social Security and federal and state taxes.

I was 12 years old. Every Saturday and Sunday, I punched the clock at 6 a.m. and punched out at noon. The pay was the minimum wage, then $1.25 an hour. But it sounded pretty good, even though the hours and the working environment were less than pleasant. After all, my good friend, Timmy, was working at a fruit stand for 50 cents an hour, while his father, an immigrant from Ireland, was sweeping a subway platform floor for not much more money than I was earning. And he had 10 kids.

The nursing home also beat being a caddy, as the tippers were erratic. A dreaded duffer we knew as Muckah was renowned for being a cheapskate.

I caddied for him once and he fulfilled the advance reviews. A tobacco chewer, he bought you a hot dog at the ninth hole. But before he gave it to you, he had to take a bite. Then, at the end of 18 holes in the hot sun, Muckah tipped you 50 cents. I pocketed the two quarters from Muckah, gave up caddying and took the job at the nursing home kitchen.

After that, there would be a string of other minimum-wage jobs: bag boy in a supermarket, pot washer in a Jewish bakery and counter helper at a drive-in movie concession stand.

I could afford my personal necessities: Having enough money to squander at the pool hall and buying the occasional pair of Converse sneakers for the basketball court. Of course, I had no one else to support.

These days, the minimum wage in New York is $7.25 an hour. There is a bill in Albany that would raise it to $8.50 an hour. Advocates of the measure _ including the state's Roman Catholic bishops and the Hunger Action Network, which represents New York's 3,000 food pantries and soup kitchens _ point out that most of those holding low-wage jobs are not teenagers, but struggling adults.

At the current minimum wage, a full-time worker grosses $15,080 each year _ $4,010 less than the current federal poverty guideline for a family of three. The legislation authorizing an increase in the minimum wage has been identified by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver as his highest priority. However, it has been bottled up in the state Senate, where the Republicans who rule the chamber say they would prefer to increase the state Earned Income Tax Credit, as the benefits flowing from that would go to the adults who need it the most.

Hunger Action Network calls the latter proposal "a form of taxpayer subsidy to the low-wage corporate economy." But the group also argues there is a strong case for passing both the enhanced EITC and the minimum wage hike.

New York voters, according to a recent poll by Quinnipiac University, support raising the minimum wage, with 78 percent backing the boost and just 20 percent opposing it. Of those who favor the increase, 37 percent support the $8.50 an hour level, while 52 percent said they would go even higher, Quinnipiac reported.

Whether you support it or oppose it, let's not be shy about letting your local legislator know where you stand on the issues. You could also ask them where they stand on giving themselves a raise. The timing is right because state lawmakers are themselves reportedly in line for a possible raise before year's end.

Gov.Andrew Cuomo, according to reports from the Capitol, would increase the salaries of legislators from $79,500 to more than $100,000 per year if he can also get them to go along with a reduction in their per diem payments, the tidy sums they receive for staying in Albany.

Many readers of the The Daily Star were gripped by our recent coverage of the dozens of allegedly neglected dogs from South Side Dogs in Worcester. Our most recent story focused on how the Susquehanna SPCA won a court order transferring ownership of the dogs from the kennel operator to the humane organization.

This week, a representative of the New York State Weimaraner Rescue, based in Attica, informed us that the organization is looking to find new homes for five Weimaraners taken from South Side. An email from the representative, Barbara Wilcox, indicates the dogs "may need some TLC (tender loving care)" as they came from a "bad environment." If you are interested in learning more about the dogs, you can contact Wilcox at bwilcox@citilink.net.

I'll be away in the coming week, a period that unfortunately coincides with the Cooperstown Hawkeyes having four home games at Doubleday Field. I'll be back the following week, when, on the night of July 17, the Hawkeyes host the Oneonta Outlaws at Doubleday. See you there and then.

Joe Mahoney can be reached at jmahoney@thedailystar.com or 432-1000.