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The Inclusive Economy

“I Don’t Want to Be Working Until 2 AM for the Rest of My Life”

By Joanna Ain on 07/06/2016 @ 03:00 PM

Tags: Data and Research, Economic Inclusion, Education

This summer we’re sharing stories of young workers across the country who we spoke to as part of our Financial Security at Work Initiative. We’ll preview of our findings from the study at the Assets Learning Conference in September. In the meantime, we want to give you a peek behind the scenes and meet a few of the people we talked to. Today, we’re highlighting Julia,* a working student out of Portland, Oregon.

Julia has worked as a cocktail waitress at a small bar for the past three months making $15 an hour, not including tips. “This is the first job where my employer has offered more than minimum wage, which is really nice,” she says. While pleased with her pay, as a part-time, hourly worker, Julia does not receive sick leave, health insurance, tuition assistance or other benefits through her employer. She usually works 10- to 11-hour night shifts on three days a week. Sometimes she doesn’t get home until 4 am, which can be very difficult with her school schedule. Julia makes an extra $50 or so a month through cleaning homes, babysitting, dog walking and pet sitting.

In addition to work, Julia attends a local university. She uses the money from her waitressing job to cover her living expenses and takes out loans for her tuition. “I am just watching my debt accrue, and it’s really scary because I have no idea how I’m going to pay it off.” Anxious about her student debt, Julia steers away from getting loans for anything other than her education. “I bought a beater car outright for $800,” she says. Working a late night schedule alongside going to college has increased the time it’s taking to get her bachelor’s degree, but Julia feels it’s worth the extra time. This way, she doesn’t have to take out additional loans to support her living expenses.

Julia shares a two-bedroom townhouse with her boyfriend and their cat. “We got really lucky on rent so we’re probably never leaving,” she explains. The couple splits the rent and their utility costs. Their landlord hasn’t substantially increased their rent, but the couple often sees friends moving out of Portland due to high rents. Julia keeps an eye on Craigslist and rental listings to be prepared—just in case their rent goes up and they suddenly have to move. “[It’s] always on my mind…how can I keep things from getting any more expensive than they are? Because if they do, I’m going to start to go beyond my threshold of being able to take care of it.”

By putting aside $20 of her tips at a time, Julia has built up $1,000 in savings. Sometimes she uses this fund to pay rent and bills when her paychecks haven’t come in yet, but she is diligent about always replenishing the account. This fund is her only safety net. “It’s scary,” she says. “I have no financial backing from my parents, who are great people but are very poor.”

When it comes to getting financial advice, Julia uses Google as her first stop when she has a question. She calls her finances, “a black hole in my knowledge.” When discussing what other resources she has available to her, Julia says that there are not many. She really wants to start saving for retirement, and Julia hopes that in her next job she will be able to access a 401(k) plan where her contributions will be matched by an employer. Julia is excited about the prospect of automatic withdrawal. “They will just come right out of your check, and you’re kind of blind to it,” she says. ”You don’t think about it. You don’t touch it.”

Moving forward, Julia plans on finding resources to help her figure out how to pay back student loans and minimize those payments when she is done with school. Right now, Julia doesn’t know where she can access financial advice: “I don’t know of any place to go. There maybe is some kind of resource at my school, but I’m not aware of it.” She studies public health and wants to teach or work for the county. “I still haven’t decided what, but I don’t want to be working until 2 am for the rest of my life,” she says.

*Name has been changed.

CFED’s Financial Security at Work Initiative, sponsored by the Prudential Foundation, explores the current state of workplace-based financial wellness programs and envision how the workplace can be strengthen as a platform for financial security in the future. To learn more about the project, check out:

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