I started working at age sixteen. I worked in a tiny diner located on a stream dividing Bristol and Terryville, Connecticut, the name etched in the door read, “Jimmy’s on the River.” I’d fill diner mugs with coffee and butter people’s toast “only on the bottom,” as if the customer couldn’t just flip it over. About a year later I started working on the other side of the tracks at an upscale Italian restaurant in Plainville, Connecticut. At First & Last Tavern, folks butter their own bread. We bring a basket of warm bread to every table upon greeting them—people love that. I waitress during semesters, working anywhere between fifteen and thirty hours a week in order to afford housing, utilities, gas, groceries, and the occasional beer if I’m lucky enough to not see my debit card balance in the red. Picking up an extra shift or two always helps to pay my ten-day-late rent right on time.
As a twenty-one-year-old full-time student graduating in two weeks, I’ve worked this schedule for four years. During the summer, I work for a little extra dough in Martha’s Vineyard serving lobster rolls to tourists, but I’ve never seen the beach or the Obamas. I work about sixty-five hours a week, and the closest I get to spending a day on the water is my pinhole view of the Oak Bluffs harbor behind fifteen umbrellas.
Employment has begun to go hand in hand with being a college student. Nowadays, we rarely see one without the other. According to the US Department of Commerce, “In 2015, some 43 percent of full–time undergraduates and 78 percent of part–time undergrads were employed.” It is important to consider all of the expenses college students encounter besides Thirsty-Thursday $2.00 drafts, and get some insight on what really leaves us eating easy-mac and ramen noodles four times a week. According to Paul Rossitto, the Interim Director for Central Connecticut State University’s Career Success Center, there has been a significant increase in students looking for employment over the last five years. In the month of April alone, the Career Success Center had 525 appointments, including students and alumni. Currently, on Central Connecticut’s campus, there are 981 college students employed. This excludes all students employed off-campus.
To better understand the complexities of working college students, I’ve taken a peak into the not-so-deep pockets of college students on Central Connecticut’s campus. A few full-time undergraduate students have shared their own experiences with seeing just how far a dollar can stretch while maintaining good academic standing.
Meghan Lacey, Age: 21, Student Job: Student Center Operations Manager
This is Lacey’s third year working at the Student Center on campus at CCSU. She started as an information desk attendant, working there for one year, working her way up to a management position. As “the queen of the information desk,” she is the Student Manager that oversees all of the Information Desk/CENtix Box Office operations and personnel. As an elementary education major, Lacey credits this job for teaching her a lot about diversity and relaying information to various kinds of people, “this job has taught me a lot about diversity since I am supervising up to ten employees—everyone works/understands information differently.” With all the responsibilities of a management position, Lacey still only receives a mere $12.12 an hour. In addition to supporting her Chipotle addiction, she works for her rent, gas, phone bill, credit card bill and more. “Ya know, the small things,” Lacey says. However small, these are integral costs that can’t go unpaid. Although Lacey states that she enjoys going to work due to the Student Center having a really great team this year, she describes her state of employment as, “just trying to survive.”
Ryan Curcio, Age: 26, Student Job: Food Distribution Factory Worker
Or in Curcio’s words, “this is a fancy way of saying that I pick cases of perishable food items for a handful of stores from different parts of this fine nation of ours for anywhere between four and twelve hours per day.” Curcio begins to explain the step-by-step process of his typical day at work in this factory, but the only thing that makes sense to an average college student brain is that these tasks are described as super mundane. “I barely understand the mechanism(s) that drives this, so I cannot really offer a solid explanation of how it works. You do this strange, mindless crap the whole day.” Curcio’s job offers a taste, sometimes bitter, of adult working class life, where he works among a “hodgepodge” of eighteen-to-forty-year-olds year olds. He’s been with the company for nearly five years. Curcio is a full-time college student and a full-time employee, averaging about twenty-five to forty hours a week. The only thing about Curcio’s job that keeps him coming back is the hourly wage. At $21.00 an hour, it’s hard to leave, no matter how many times he has to hand roll food pallets with shrink-wrap. One of his co-workers once worked for six months straight to top out at a $40,000 a year salary; to this, Curcio responds, “No thanks.” Describing his work experience as a student employee as “disillusioned,” Curcio makes it clear that he’d much rather be sitting in class than punching in. Factory work has absolutely no connection to his future career path; he works to pay for tuition, rent, car insurance, gas, and “the occasional night of fun, which usually involves alcoholic beverages, cigarettes, etc,” which he eagerly and understandably blames on the combination of hard work and labor. Every worker has their vice.
Teague Soucy-Field, Age: 22, Student Job: Mall Cop
Whether it’s saving Forever 21 from this week’s shoplifter, or breaking up preteen Star Wars fans having a lightsaber battle in front of Macy’s, Officer Soucy-Field is on the scene thirty-two to forty hours a week. Working security at West Farms Mall, Soucy-Field states that he is “mainly a visible deterrent, but on occasions we respond to any crimes and medical emergencies that happen in the mall or in the parking lots.” Soucy-Field hopes to use this job as a stepping stone to pursue a career in the criminal justice field, although he admits to taking a significant pay cut from his last job in order to do so. His last job? A manager at your local Dunkin Donuts. Who knew that financially you’d be better off serving coffee and donuts to cops than training to be one? At $12.00 an hour, Soucy-Field gives credit to his current employment, stating that there’s about a 50% yearly turn-over rate, losing their staff to police jobs which is exactly what he intends to do. Like most other student workers, Soucy-Field also has to pay for rent, gas, groceries, and extra spending money. Working students don’t get to enjoy your typical college experience. Soucy-Field isn’t spending his nights partying until the break of dawn. “It’s stressful,” he says, “With work and social groups/gatherings, you sadly have to miss out on a lot.”
So, next time you drive by your local frat house and see flags reading, “Saturday’s Are For The Boys” and young studs crushing empty beer cans to their foreheads, remember that not every college kid uses their parents money to fund that thirty rack of Natty Ice. Many of us are pouring it, stocking it, or waiting to arrest those who drank too much of it.