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“Surprising Minimum-Wage Jobs”


One of the featured headlines on yahoo! today was “Surprising Minimum-Wage Jobs”, and featured a list of 10 jobs that most Americans don’t realize pay close to nothing.

Not surprisingly, I’ve been employed as 4 of the 10 jobs listed.

Two were pretty obvious: Line Cook and Tax Preparer. What do you expect the guy putting together a meal in a Café to earn? I was making $10/hr plus tips (about $25 dollars for a 5-hour shift.) It certainly wasn’t bad money, but with a work schedule of only 20-25 hours a week, the volume of cash needed to support oneself in coastal Orange County just wasn’t there.

Then there was Tax Preparer. I learned early that charging commission was the way to go. Most people come to me owing the government money (about $500 on average), and I simply amend their taxes with deductions that they might not know exist (it’s amazing how many don’t care to file their own taxes.) I initially charged a flat rate of $50-$100 depending on how complicated the taxes were, but I found that it took me anywhere from 4-18 hours to file an individual’s taxes, and it just wasn’t worth it to me. I now charge a 10% commission on whatever I’m able to get back (but I still charge a flat rate if the individual still winds up owing.) It’s not bad money between January and April.

But these two jobs might surprise some of you: EMT and Lifeguard. I lifeguarded for two Summers in High School. First I was a lifeguard at Soak City, USA, a popular water park attached to Knott’s Berry Farm amusement park in Buena Park, California. I was paid minimum wage ($6.75) at the time and worked 40 hours a week. I was in High School, so I was loving the $400 paychecks. The following Summer I became a lifeguard for the City of Placentia, California. They paid me $8.50 an hour to supervise children and watch swimming pools. I got about 20-32 hours a week, and it was a mediocre gig. Certainly not something I’d recommend for someone looking to pay rent and afford the average post-High School cost of living.In hindsight, I suppose $12 an hour would have been more appropriate, considering the level of responsibility, but then again, it’s not like I was put in charge of 5,000+ beachgoers at the Pacific Ocean.

I saved the most appalling for last: Emergency Medial Technician (EMT.) Here’s what yahoo! had to say (note how it’s ranked #1 on the list!):

star_of_life

“1. Emergency Medical Technician (EMT)

Bottom 10% earn: $8.79 per hour
U.S. median salary: $11.41 per hour
Job description: Assess injuries, administer emergency medical care, and extricate trapped individuals. Transport injured or sick persons to medical facilities.

An EMT may pull you from a car wreck and keep you alive on your way to the hospital — and maybe for as little as $9 an hour? New EMTs must be brave, decisive, compassionate, and knowledgeable. Fortunately, their salaries go up after they get some experience under their belts.”

Sounds about right. I started at $7 an hour (best in the business at the time) for an Ambulance company in Anaheim, California. It wasn’t until I became a Field Training Officer (FTO), that my wages increased. After three years in the business, I couldn’t take it anymore. My ending pay? A meager $11.50 an hour. That’s right. The guy in charge of saving your life if you get in a massive automobile accident, have a heart attack, or overdose on drugs is getting paid less than your average fry cook.

My contemporaries and I bitched and moaned about the poor pay all the time, but our bosses had little sympathy. We’d usually work 12-24 hours straight with no sleep and no lunch breaks. In three years of working on an ambulance, not once did I receive an official lunch break. We were expected to bring our lunch on board with us, or “find time” between calls (not always realistic.) The stress and mental trauma of having someone else’s life in your hands, as well as the gruesome sights you take in on a day-to-day basis did enough damage to my mind that I continue to have nightmares to this day. I finally had enough when I was pressured into working 38 consecutive hours without sleep or a break for food, and decided I was done being abused.

Your average EMT is overworked, underpaid, and completely cynical and jaded. Several of my long-tenured co-workers were some of the most miserable human beings I have ever met. After years of “bringing out the dead” and being exposed to inconceivable carnage, heartbreak and horror, their minds were either sick, twisted or completely stoic. It’s depressing, really.

Some EMT’s go on to eventually become firefighters, nurses and doctors, but for those who choose to make a career out of it – watch out. You might not consider a young kid (I was 18 when I started) fresh out of training to be more qualified to save your life than a seasoned veteran, but trust me – that is the case. Despite rigorous standards and State requirement to participate in continuing education, most EMT’s lose a lot of their classroom knowledge and begin to acquire rusty skills as the years wear on. Some of the most talented and intelligent partners I worked with were straight out of school.

I’m not the political type, but if I were, I probably would have pushed for a State mandated minimum wage for EMT’s (starting wages of $12/hr. at the very LEAST sounds appropriate), mandatory 1-hour lunch breaks per 12 hours, and a cap of 24 hours per shift. Because, honestly, do you want the person who shows up when disaster strikes to be a bitter, sleep-deprived and impoverished misanthrope? I’d wager to guess you wouldn’t.

I can say with absolute candor, that being an EMT was simultaneously the most rewarding experience of my life, as well as the most frustrating and emotionally draining experience as well. Would I do it again? Absolutely not. At least not at the rate I was being paid, that is.

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