Quick back story: Bean is a member of the high school’s art club. Every year, the club takes a trip (some years, they even get to Europe! She’s got four years to see if that trip comes around again). This year, they’re going on a sort of art tour of western Massachusetts and eastern New York, and she really, really wants to go.
Her problem is that the trip costs 150 bucks.
I told her that if she were willing to go above and beyond the (admittedly meager) chores she does every day, I’d pay her for her time. I offered $10 an hour and told her that the money she earns can ONLY go toward the trip, and she readily agreed.
This afternoon, while she was dusting, Bean and her sister were having a conversation about this arrangement. Bean noted that she was being paid well above the federal minimum wage, and Punk pointed out that, because she was being paid “under the table,” she was making out even better. “Your paycheck would have taxes taken out,” she observed, “so you’re making WELL above what someone making minimum wage at, say, McDonald’s brings home.”
It should be noted here than neither child has ever held a “paycheck” job. They’re getting all of this from being backseat NPR hostages, from our dinner table conversations, and from listening in while we watch Rachel Maddow.
I explained to the girls that while Punk was technically correct, most people who make minimum wage don’t make enough to pay federal income tax (and there’s no state income tax where we live), so they’d be getting that money back at tax time, though they would still have to pay social security and unemployment taxes.
That led to a conversation about the kinds of things that people who make minimum wage – or just above it- don’t get to do. They talked about food stamps and free school lunches, and about the idea that those parents certainly can’t send their kids on art club field trips.
Sometimes, I worry that my privileged kids don’t understand enough about how money works, or have sufficient empathy for those whose lives are harder than theirs. I’m feeling a little less anxious about that now; listening to my children discuss the very real economic realities that too many people face has shown me that, at least on an intellectual level, they really do get it.