Minimum Wage to Reality: My Financial Education, Pt 1 by Kyle Phoenix



My first job, on the books, was for $4 an hour at Pathmark, in Hartsdale, New York, it was amazing to me because I'd been paid $30 a week for about 30 hours of work at Charles' Friend Chicken as a delivery boy.  Sure I had carfare and a whole lot to learn (how to use the register, memorizing the codes for all fruits and vegetables, the departmental division of items---a supermarket is a hotbed of intellectual effort.)  Then we moved and I was then at $3.35 an hour at Wendy's.  I was so proud and even more so when after a few months I got up to $3.65.  I could just smell $4.00 on the horizon with them.  But then I got pulled back into the game at D'Agostino's supermarket, for $4 an hour, which was right across the street from my high school.  I thought being smart was the operative goal, so when I came up $50 short, I proved how their computer system was in error and that it was the manager's error, not mine.  So they fired me.  But that was okay in the short run, I went to Abraham & Strauss Department store, where I got a whopping $7 an hour PLUS 8% commission on ever sale.  I went back to D'Agostino a few months later, armed with a Mastercard AND a Visa cresdit card (that A&S's employment helped me get)  at 18 and shopped, hard---lobster, steaks, the good stuff and such---to prove a point.  The revenge of a teenager.

There were two jobs in between there and college, I wasn't able to go until I was 21, one at $7 an hour and the other at $5 an hour.  At college---I was punched in the gut back down to $3.35 an hour at several university jobs---and a limitation on how many hours I could work.  I literally had to ball together 5 jobs, 4 on the books, and one side hustle to create a decent monthly income to pay my way through school.  But I made it happen.  One year I calculated that I had survived on $3000 for an entire year.  Today, I tend to believe that's what workers in India and China are making, if not less.

After undergrad, my first temp job was $7.25 an hour, then $10.25, then $14---these jumps happening from assignment to assignment across three cities in about 5 months.  Then I landed my first "real" full time corporate job, with overtime it came out to about $46k a year plus benefits.  I was able to get a huge apartment and even when that job ended, I was much more centered in my skills and ability to command a higher salary.  For about 5 years I kept up the increases, averaging out, mastering how to control my spending and taxes until I hit a personal high of around $80k essentially from just temping.  All of that took about 5 years from the $7.25 at a pharmaceutical company in the mountains of nowhere right after college to edging into the six figures in a handful of years.


Since and during  then I've gone back to school several times, learned a lot, incurred some more debt, started a prosperous business, shutdown that business, started another one and gone into the non-profit world, left the non-profit world, gone back to school, gone into education and arrived at the point of traveling a lot around the country, and soon the world, in this hybrid educational career.

Backtracking to minimum wage, I've earned every wage and expect that as I slowly build a sustainable business yet again, it's going to jump back and forth a few more times.  I was just offered a job in 2013 paying exactly $80k a year but it's on the other side of the country---which would mean abandoning my current schooling and not being along the corridor of travel of home, school, family that I have going over several states.  Everyone around me, the headhunters, my family, my friends---they were all tempted, asking about the multiple interviews, about my plans my interest.  I was sort of...meh...about the whole thing.  And even I was struck by my lack of wholehearted interest and frankly, hunger for it that I remember having a handful of years ago or way back to when I left undergrad.  I would've killed a few puppies for that job and been there 23 hours a day, my first job, the $46k one?---I used to clock about 18 to 20 hours a day there and I was commuting from 100 miles away.

My favorite job, insanely enough went back to my undergrad days and temporarily repeated itself: security.  I worked for Public Safety during my undergrad years and someone suggested it and I pursued it.  I'd been walking wherever I wander late nights in Manhattan and noticed a parking lot with a security attendant in it on his laptop.  It must've been about 2am and it suddenly struck me that I could do that!  That I had done that!  That I could get amazingly prodigious amounts of work done.  It took about a month or so before I was sitting in an empty lobby writing to my hearts content.  It was amazing.  I wrote about 6 books, edited them, did law school classes, was refreshed and aware in class (I'm a night owl) and as long as the check covered basic expenses, I was happy.  It was with varying costs and sundries under $10 an hour.

But here's how I looked at it.  And how strangely I look at a lot of work.  For the 8 hours plus 2 hours travel, I got say $80.  I was responsible for watching a few hundred people sign in or out, the numbers lessening when I was on my preferred later shifts.  I generally bought or brought a nice dinner, about $10, my IPod dockable radio, a few books, several notebooks, and a binder of classwork.  Maybe 2 hours was spent acting as security, I didn't have to patrol, just make notations every hour.  Honestly I really didn't do much.  For them.  They literally paid me an extra $50 a night to write my books, to build my business, to study law.  I was good at it because naturally I'm a night owl so they never had to worry about my dozing off---which seemed to be 90% of the issue with most everyone else.

Now for myself, I created several royalty bearing items while I was sitting there, started generating money.  Which meant that $10 an hour some nights was really $30 or $40 as sales were popping up and happening all over the world.  I was able to focus one semester on wholly being a student, taking a break from teaching, and ironically, as a night owl, I would've been awake those hours anyway and probably less productive.  By less productive I mean that for me, personally, I've noticed that work, no matter what it is, as long as it doesn't require too much of me, acts as sort of "nap" from my other thinking and writing and business stuff.  I'm often able to be pleasant and present and disconnected from all the things employees gripe about, both real and unreal, because I'm not in it.


 I started out this blog posting thinking I would take to task the American financial system and explain how the three states of the individual in and to Capitalism (Product (think: slave), Consumer, and Creator (Owner/Entrepreneurs) was underrepresented in a firm understanding due to a lack of financial education overall to the American populace.  I was then going to to rail a little as to how an Owner is forced to choose between their own aspirations and familial responsibilities and the payroll and operating expenses of a business in competition to competitors and the convoluted, equally fair and unfair taxation system.  I was then going to, as an educator, lash into the overall lack of available education to workers to improve their skill levels to increase their value from a physical ratio of 1:1 (one person puts out essentially one point of physical energy) and that not being taught, that ratio, and therefore how to increase the ratio, workers are doomed to thinking what they do is all they can do.  I really was going to go at that.

But I thought I should look at minimum wage in my own work history.  And maybe pull some insights from that as to how I, brown as the floor, have managed.

I was talking to a friend/fellow instructor at Columbia about the American economic system---you know---a light chat----and he was really upset about his current job position.  In my observing opinion and professional estimation, he's a very good teacher.  I actively encouraged and gave him some recommendations for other positions, if he wasn't interested in the laborious task of climbing the university food chain to full professor.  He went on and on about co-workers and bosses and environments at his consulting position.  The consulting position offering health care and other benefits into his contract so it offsets the minimal stuff he's eligible for at the university.  He was just upset.

Listening I realized, I've been an Employee.  And I've been paid every wage.  I personally liked temping and even more, consulting because it allowed me to learn from every place I was at, always my number one priority, and it gave diversity to the places I was at---so I've never sat at any one place for longer that 2 years doing the same thing.  It infused a dynamism to work for me.  I realized also that having my side entrepreneurial enterprises, some years bringing in a few thousand, others up to $50,000 a year, while working full time, have always given me a space to be mentally about work.  I can literally take it or leave it.  I'm there to learn but I've never expected a job to save me, hold me, support me, be there for me, like me, be fair to me.

In fact, I count the Public Safety jobs that gave me time to think, ponder, write, create as pound for pound, the most useful.  Similar to Einstein at the patent office.  Luckily I had read several biographies on Einstein so I knew the importance of time to think, to create (He sussed out the theory of relativity working for 7 years at a Swiss patent office and said he loved it because the low level work gave him time to ponder theoretical physics all day long and not be tied into teaching, working, constantly satisfying an employer about physics).

The current employment system, girded initially by the lack of financial education suggests to employees a care taking that isn't ever stable or assured.  Or bluntly, true.  Your job doesn't love you and your manager will toss you over and replace you, I calculate, in the amount of time comparable to a day to the dollar of your hourly wage.   I realized in talking to my friend, how much of an entrepreneurial mindset I had.  I personally look at jobs like a 7-11 Store---oh good, it's open for that immediate need but I'm really focused on the supermarket, on a big shop elsewhere.  But as an educator, I've worked hard to teach my students, mainly adults now, quite a few Black, Latino and Asian, that the 21st century means that paradigm of being an hourly employee has changed.  I think it shifted in about 1998 or so when skill, higher than a 1:1 work productivity ratio, technology and financial education all merged or coalesced into a bigger, or at least different, expectation of employees.


The average worker is not ready for the 21st century, more than a decade into it.  As more and more of my books publish, several of them focus on the financial future and education of people of color.  I endeavor to in every book print a glossary of information on how money works, on the options for enhancement of one's self.  And I'm standing somewhere in person or on TV or in an online video doing this as well, pretty much every minute of the day.  Don't get me wrong, I've gotten great feedback and seen people do incredible things with the little bits of information I've passed on, I'm just greedy I suppose.  I want more people to be able to do more.  I'm constantly heeding the thrumming in my ears from my ancestors: "Free my people."

Part 2 of this article will talk about the things that I did and maybe the things that you can do to shore yourself up, to get ready because as I forecast into the future, it's not going to get easier, it's going to get harder if you're dependent upon a job.

Thank you for reading and if you liked this check out the other blogs or one my books on Amazon.com
Kyle Phoenix
Email: kylephoenixshow@gmail.com
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