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Summer jobs: A window into wages, taxes, and cost of living

By John Vettese, Student Voices staff writer

Every summer, millions of high school students just like you hit the streets looking for work – in restaurants, malls and offices.

You might be saving for a car or for college, helping the family, or just want some extra spending money, If you are seeking experience for future career opportunities, there are also internships that can help you.

When the first paycheck arrives, you might be in for a shock – it’s less than you expected!

Don’t worry – your boss didn’t pay you the wrong amount. That gap between what you thought you would get paid and what you actually get paid is money that goes to the government. It’s your income tax, which is basically your contribution to keep the government running and its public services – such as roads, parks, public health and the military – available.

The amount the federal, state and local governments take out of your paycheck is based on how much money you make. The more you earn, the higher the percentage of your wages you pay in taxes, from 10 percent for the lowest income bracket to 35 percent for the highest bracket. The amount you get taxed also varies depending on whether you are single or married, have children (or other “dependents” whom you care for), or are over the age of 65.

If you’re getting a paycheck for the first time, a quick glance at your pay stub – a form attached to the check – will tell you where all the money goes. You’ll see one amount listed under “gross pay”; that’s the amount of money that you get paid, before taxes get taken out. You’ll see another amount listed under “net pay”; that’s the amount you’re being paid after taxes.

In between, you might see other items listed, and corresponding dollar amounts. This is the money that’s been taken out of your pay – the technical term is “withholdings” – and the pay stub is there to give you a dollar-by-dollar breakdown of what was deducted. You’ll see your federal tax, your state tax and your local / municipal tax high up. Then, if you are earning more money, you’ll see other withholdings such as Social Security – it might be labeled something like SST or FICA. This is a retirement benefit you receive from the government: Throughout your working life, the government takes money from each paycheck, so you’ll have savings when you retire. Basically, it’s money you get back, but not until much later in life. Likewise, the money that goes to your Medicare withholding comes back to you, but in the form of government health care when you’re a senior citizen and no longer working.

Confused? You aren’t alone! Many citizens seek out the help of tax professionals every year to help them fill out their tax forms. For more information on how the federal tax process works, check out the Internal Revenue Service website at www.irs.gov. And happy summer vacation!

What do you think?

Do you have a summer job or are you trying to get one? What kind of work would be your optimal summer job? How will taxes and other withholdings affect you now and in the future? Join the discussion and let us know what you think!
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Rimas/Watertown High School
Last summer i got a job as a landscaper I was being payed 15 dollars an hour and i was very thankful that i didn't have to pay taxes. and i don't think anyone who has a summer job should have to

Watertown, MA
Jess L.
I have never had a summer job nor am I trying to get one. My optimal summer job would be life guarding or working in a hospital in some way. Taxes will take a large portion of everyone's paycheck out, but it is the law and our duty as American citizens to pay the them.

Watertown, MA
I been working at Shaw's for more than 3 years, it might not be my dream job but it has taught me a lot. By working at Shaw's I have learned self discipline and how to deal with people with different temperaments. You see a lot of different kind of people, people who are nice and respect you and people who treat you like slaves. But its good lesson for later in life.

Rimas/Watertown High School
I currently have a job in a pizza place i think some of the taxes that are withheld are good and helpful to yourself and your community in general but taxes as just wrong and have to real purpose. as a student I don't have to pay student taxes.

I have had a summer job for the last two summers. I think that it is a good idea for students to get a summer job. It keeps you busy. The ideal summer job would be something that keeps you busy but does not tire you out too quickly. Taxes don't bother me too much now but I feel like they will when I need the money in the future. For now I'm just trying to save up all of my money.

Ive had a job for almost 3 years and I think its good that students try to make their own money and save, but I also agree that you think you are going to get this huge paycheck, but its a lot less. The government takes out too much money from students that are just trying to save money for their future. I think it is fair for adults above the age of 21 but students that are in high school, preparing themselves for college, or whatever your going to do after high school, you should get to keep the money that your making, and the government shouldn't take those taxes from kids 21 and younger.

Watertown/ Ma
Rimas/ Watertown High
I think having a summer job is good for students because it teaches us the value of money and hard work. I had a summer job, some of the best summer jobs would probably be life guarding of working in an ice cream shop because being outside is the best way to enjoy your summer even if you are working. But taxes don't seem fair because of the little pay you might make, the money cant always compensate what you need it for especially in saving up for college.

I work at shaws all throughout the year. It's good for students to have summer jobs because it teaches you responsibility. Its also good experience for future jobs and it teaches you that working isn't easy. My optimal summer job would be working at a camp all summer with kids. Its good hours, good money and making relationships with younger kids. It doesnt even seem like work because It's so fun. At my job the company takes lots of taxes out of my paycheck. Taxes effect my college fund and in the future will effect bills such as house, gas, water and even the heat bill.

i think its good for teenagers to have summer jobs because it keeps them busy. i have one now. i think taxes give you less money and some of it you dont get it back.

sidney montana
Jeni Cutler
Brad Faulhaber
yes i have a summer job, i work at richland inn and suit as a housekeeper. i agree on the taxes and always getting some back, the more you learn about taxes the more you understand it. its always good to know about taxes beacuse you will be getting taxed in the futrue..

Mr. Faulhaber
Yes, I have a summer job. I work in a hotel. I dont very much like the deduction for taxes on my paycheck but it is good to get those back though. It does have advantages for building up the economy as well.

Mr. Faulhaber
Yes I have a summer job. I work in the auto body business. I don't like seeing the money I work for taken out from government. But when you file for your tax return its always good to get some back. I agree on how the money needs to go to public services for the poor. I like how its based on how much you make instead of a certain amount taken out of the check.

Belleville NY
I believe that it is good for teenagers to have summer jobs. The younger they are when they get their first job, the more they would understand about the way taxes work when they get out of school and start their career. It might seem like more money is being taken out of your paycheck everyweek, however at the beginning of each year you get back the income tax that was taken out of your checks. Taxes and other withholdsings will help us because there is money being set aside for retirement. It also helps because when we get older and are no loger working the goverment gives us Medicare which is the money that is taken out of our check and put in a Medicare withholding. I had a job over the summer, and the money being taken out didnt bother me bacause I knew that at the beginning of next year I would get some of that money back.

Colby/Belleville Henderson
I think summer jobs are worth having. I work at a restruant in the kitchen and it has thaught me alot. Aside from the normal things you would learn from being in a kitchen. For example I learned how to work in a team environment, which is very useful for "the real world." Taxes and other withholdings take more out now and you get it back later which in my opion is good cause I'm terrible at saving money, and having taxes taken out and getting them back later is like the government is saving your money for you.

Kaytrina & Rose
Sorensen/Benson High School
We think that it is beneficial for teenagers to have summer jobs. Summer jobs help to show these teenagers what to expect when they get older. Taxes and other withholding will affect us now and in the future by the fact that we would get less money with every paycheck, but at the beginning of every year you get your income tax which gives you money back and helps with bills. Taxes give you less money at a certain time and some of it you don't get back.

Sorenson/benson high scholl
i dont have enough time for a job. a retail job. it depends on how much money i make

Mr. Sorneson benson high school
Yes I had a job over the summer I was pepping houses for painting. I would have to something moving around. It will affect me by not get money.

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