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My Early Job Experiences

Updated on August 7, 2019


My work experiences started at age 12. It was a different times back in the 1960s in NYC. I grew up in Queens, NY and here are some of my early jobs. Looking back, they were great experiences growing up. Some life lessons and the reality of life were learned.

- March 2016

Paper Boy at Age 12 (1963-1964)

Like many young people of that time period, we were expected to work. My brother and I started out as paper boys in our neighborhood. It did not pay much at all and the bulk of our earnings were from tips. Many of the customers were older retired folks who does not like to walk to the corner store. They want their daily newspaper delivered to their doors either private house or apartments. The Sunday New York Times was the worst. It was heavy and we had to use a shopping cart to carry them.

The guy who ran the place had recruited about a dozen boys from the neighborhood. He would give some pep talks on occasion to help drum up new customers. It was part of our job to canvass the neighborhood to sign up new customers. There would be a bonus system where for each new customer, some points were rewarded. At the end of the summer, a field trip was setup to reward those that performed. The trip would be a weekend up in the Catskills, a real treat for kids from the city to be around nature.

The lesson I learned is how to sell myself. It is the basic "cold call" of any business. I was not very good at it. My older brother, on the other hand, was a natural. I also learned the basics about incentives. It is something that help motivate the people to go out and do something more.

I only did it for about 2 years. I believe my salary worked out to be around $1 per hour (which in today's dollar would probably be $10-12/hour). It was basically minimum wage but never the less it was a beginning of a long working career. The basics of showing up on time, and treating your customer with respect and learning to keep books cannot be minimized.

Working at the YMCA Ages 14-18 (1965-1969)

My next job was working at the YMCA in midtown Manhattan. My older brother first found this job and later introduced me to it. I started working in the basement in the laundry room. I don't know if this was pre-child labor laws, but apparently no one questioned about a 14 year old working P/T. This was hard work for anyone. My job was to work along another person and together we would feed the washed and dried bed sheets into a presser machine. It's a big piece of equipment, basically a large steam presser. You can imagine the heat and humidity in that basement room. It was also noisy from all the machines running all the time.

Despite the hard work, it was humbling. I've learned humility and the importance of doing a job well done, any job. After about a year, I found an opening upstairs by the exercise room. They needed a cashier on weekends by the counter where the job was to hand out locker keys and towels to members coming to use the exercise equipment and swim in the pool. It was a much easier job and it paid a little better. I was able to bring a radio with me and listen while I work.

One of the perks of working at the Y is to be able to use all the facilities. It was this time where I learned how to use the trampoline. I got to know the instructor quite well and he would teach me some of the basic moves. I also enjoyed the tandem jumps where two people would be able to jump at the same time on the large rectangular bed. There would be spotters all around for safety and we would take turn jumping for fun and exercise.

Another memorable contact at this time was an elder gentleman member of the Business Center. The Business Center is a more exclusive part of the Y open to Business Members only. It is a more costly membership and they would get their own space and some extra services such as shoes shined and some food services. This gentleman would strike up a conversation with me and he would talk about his experiences. Apparently, he is an early retired businessman who has done very well on Wall Street. He has no family and uses his spare time reading the financial pages and invest his small fortune and of course hang out at the Y, swimming and tanning and use the sauna. He was only about in his early 50s, yet he seems to have "checked out" on life. As a teenager not knowing much about the business world, I couldn't understand why someone who is healthy and able would choose to do nothing. I do remember that I know enough at the time, this would not be the life for me.

That experience taught me to distrust Wall Street and the banking world and the trappings of wealth. A person's life and happiness should not be guided by the stock market going up one day and falling the next.

Summer Job Working at NYCERS 1970

One summer during my sophomore year, I applied to a job working for the City of NY. It was a temporary position with the City Employee's Retirement System. My job along with a few dozen other summer hires was to help compute the final pension payouts of city employees including Police, Fire fighters and Sanitation workers.

There was a large room with rows of desks and each with an electro mechanical calculator. This was before the age of electronics and these machines would be slow and noisy. It does basic add, subtract, multiply and divide to 14 digits. What was interesting is that the same operation with the modern calculator would only take a fraction of the time. If they had the new machines, they could have hired only a fraction of the workers. A lesson in increased productivity due to technology.

What I learned that summer is how the public pension system actually works. It seems that a worker's pension is calculated based on the average of the last five years of his salary. A simple formulate is given to compute this number. In addition, we would also have to compute any unused vacation days and come up with a final payout.

What was disturbing to me is how the system was abused by the workers and their supervisors. In order to maximized their pension benefits, in the few years prior to the retirement, the worker would be granted extra overtime so as to pad their annual income. Suppose the pension was 50% of the average pay of the last five years service, it was normal for many retiree to receive close to 100% of their normal annual salary. That is because they have racked up almost double overtime pay. This was with a 20 or 25 years of service. A person starting work at 18 could receive 100% of their salary at age 40 at retirement and then go out and start a second career. What a racket. This experience turn me off to the public sector and especially to the unions in general. It is their collective bargaining that lead to these generous pension plans that will eventually put many local cities in the red and costing tax payers extra burden.

MIL SPEC Connectors

Summer Job Working for a Defense Contractor 1972

In the summer of my Senior year, I got a job working for a defense contractor in Long Island NY. Since my major was Electrical Engineering, this would be a great learning experience for me. This company design the radar avionics that goes into many of the war planes of the defense department. I was assigned to a seasoned test engineer who main job was to design a test jig that would be used to test a sub component of the whole system. He would make the design and I was to help build it using the standardized parts. When completed, we would connect to the sub-assembly and put it through some of the test cycles to verify the results.

This is where I learned all about MIL spec, standing for Military specifications. Every component must abide by a rigorous set of standards manufactured to this high level. It is an overkill in many cases but necessary because the harsh environment many of these components would have to work under. There were ovens and cooling chambers to simulate the extreme temperatures. It was an interesting summer to say the least.

Years later, I remember hearing on the news about some defense contractor over charges such as $435 hammers and $7000 toilets and I could understand it perfectly. It is due to those damn MIL specs. It doesn't justify some abuses and wastes but I can understand where those numbers come from.


Looking back now, I am grateful for all the job opportunities I had growing up. I wish this would be available to today's teenagers. They would learn important lessons that would help them in their future careers. I realize now that part of my views on politics and economy were influenced by my early experiences.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2016 Jack Lee


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