Working a minimum wage job illuminates the realities of socio-economic privilege

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Ella Shi ’23

Working a minimum wage job introduces new perspectives in an otherwise “sheltered” town such as Westport.

For most, working for a mere $13 an hour is unglamorous and undesirable. So, when I got a job at the Fresh Market in August, I viewed it as just a way to make some extra cash. However, my job taught me much more than just working for a few dollars: I quickly learned how to use the register, mop the floors and deal with unruly customers. 

Moreover, working a minimum wage job has also introduced me to new experiences. I have met people with unique backgrounds and lifestyles that I rarely see in Westport, allowing me to see the world from others’ perspectives.

Being a cashier, I interact with countless people every time I have a shift. Talking to strangers has allowed me to step out of my comfort zone and push myself to be more talkative with people I might not know. Learning how to initiate small-talk has helped me feel more confident in any room full of unfamiliar faces.

Hearing all the life experiences of my diverse group of coworkers has opened my eyes outside of the “bubble” that is Westport. Seeing their determination has motivated me in my own life.”

— Ella Shi '23

While the customers are fascinating in their own respect, it truly is my coworkers that have taught me the most. I work with people of all types: old and young, men and women and people of all different socio-economic backgrounds.

Many of my coworkers reside in less-wealthy cities in comparison to Westport. Learning about the lengths they take to commute to the Fresh Market everyday makes me more understanding. My “extra cash” is their entire means, and I am now aware of my financial privilege. 

One of my coworkers told me about how this was the first Thanksgiving where she could not cook because she was working that day. This allowed me to understand that not everyone has the flexibility to take a day off if they do not feel like working–as I have in my time working at the Fresh Market.

Another co-worker’s daily drive from Bridgeport is over an hour most days. And, for many others, they don’t have a car and have to take the bus to and from home. 

Hearing all the life experiences of my diverse group of coworkers has opened my eyes outside of the “bubble” that is Westport. Seeing their determination has motivated me in my own life. I am proud to sweep the floors, wipe the counters and bag people’s groceries. More importantly, I am more self-aware of my privilege, and rather than despising my $13 an hour paycheck, I appreciate it.