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

May 30, 2012

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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Stroudsburg PA
Me.Hanna/Stroudsburg JHS
I believe it is important for people to start young so that they get a better understanding of what will happen later in their life when they get a better job that will support them. Starting out when your young you may be a babysitter or dog walker or maybe your neighbors just ask you to help them out. Either way whether the government is involved in your paycheck or not you should get to know about budgeting and taking your money seriously.

New York
Fredy Reyes Vigil
West Hempstead High School
i dont know what to do during the summer

New York, NY
Mrs. K/JFK High
basically this post tells you how bad uncle sam will rape you in the butthole when you get a job. Dont get raped by uncle sam, deal drugs instead

Esteban Fernandez
Sonoma Valley High School
How would i know how much they take out in my paycheck from the taxes you have to pay

Sidney, Montana
Mr. Faulhaber/Sidney High School
I have had many summer jobs, even two at once some summers and taxes has always been something that has driven me crazy. I strongly feel that all citizens should be taxed the same percentage amount. When someone puts forth the time and hard work to get a higher paying job they should not be taxed a larger percentage and penalized for it while others are not making as much money are taxed less. Not all - but a large amount of our taxed money goes to support people who do not even lift a finger nor bother to find a way to support themselves besides depending on the government to take our well earned money away. Taxes are completely reasonable when it comes to provide for schools or road construction through out your community and your retirement funds, that money is being put forth to something you are actually getting a positive benefiting result from. Everyone is capable of getting a job and supporting themselves. Its what we prepare for as we go through life.

Benson Unified School Districts
Ive had a job, several in fact. They didnt start taking taxes out till i turned 18. now that i only make minimum wage and work less than 40 hours a week, the tax they take out is only 10%. still makes a difference when trying to pay bills.

Sidney, MT
Mr. Faulhaber Sidney High School
I have a job and i dont mind having money taken out of my paycheck to pay taxes and social security and i like to work because you get to work with other people.

Central Dauphin High School
I have a summer job at Hershey Park in the food & beverages department. I usually get hours in the spring and fall too but I barely get enough hours. I choose not to work in the winter because poor working conditions. But I believe that taxing high school students is unfair because of our economy today. Many students struggle to save up for college, car payments,etc. I think it would be fair if the government didn't tax us until we were at the considered adult age, 18. Us teenagers have to prepare for the future for when we graduate and for when we go to college. All the expenses we have to pay will cost us a fortune. It would be helpful if the government didn't tax us or at least lowered the taxes for us.

Harrisburg PA
Morris Central Dauphin High School
I believe that when a teenager is working hard for the money they need for college, etc it should all be going that person not the government. Did the government do anything to recieve this money? No the teenager did.

Belleville/ NY
I work year round on a dairy farm. Most of my hours are during the summer. The government should not take taxes out of kids who are trying to get their life on the right track by getting a job and making money. They are most likely trying to make money to pay their way through college and losing the tax money out of it makes it more difficult to save enough for college.

Belleville henderson
Colby/ BHCS
The government should not take taxes of working high school students under the age of 18. If they want to take taxes out they should not change the percent year after year.

Montgomery, TX
I dont think it's fair for the government to take money out of student's paychecks if they're under 18. I think the government should stop investing in health care or put too much money on high ways.

I do not have a summer job, but would like to have one. I would like to work perhaps as a tutor. Though it may seem unfair for the government to take some of the money you worked so hard to earn, you must take into consideration that without those taxes our government would have no revenue. If you can recall one of the primary weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation was its inability to tax. Without taxes our nation would not function as it does now. Those taxes pay for the public education we often take for granted. Remember TINSTAAFL!

Porterville, CA
This past summer I went to work in the landscaping maintenance industry. While this was not my first choice for a job, the money made it worthwhile. I am a fan of the flat tax so that this whole process can be simplified and workers don't have to spend money on an accountant.

Rudyard, MT
Mrs.Campbell / Northstar
Well this summer I went to the college and work there with my dad. Making money is a good thing when you are young, and after I got my pay check and look at It. I was little mad what the government or state took out of my pay check. They took $200 out of a $1,200 pay check, but taxes, wages and the cost of living , that's just life.

Sidney, MT
Courtney Anderson
Mr. Faulhaber / Sidney High School
I think the taxes taken out of your paycheck should be an exact percent that should not get raised or lowered depending on the amount of money a person makes. If someone makes more money, it's probably because they worked for it and need it for themselves, not for the government who clearly doesn't know what to do with money when they have it.

Sidney, Montana
Mr. Faulhaber
I do in fact have a summer job and it has been the leading factor in the freedoms that I have today. Without my summer job I would have no way to buy the things I have. My optimal summer job would be woking on a farm/ranch. I am perfectly fine with having taxes taken out because since day one we have been bennefiting from the United States government and we should be required to help pay for those bennefits.

Sidney MT
Sidney High School (Mr. F)
I do have a summer job, but its not just for summer. I work as a waitress all year long and I love it! But I do feel that the tax percentage should be the same rate for everyone. Mostly because if you make more money than your co-workers its for a reason, obviously. When you make more and the gov't takes out a higher percentage it's almost like you don't really make more. I do get tips, which balances out what the gov't takes, so I shouldn't be complaining. But if i didnt make tips, my point would be valid!

As a high school student, I would try to look for a job that involves tips to compensate for the money that I would lose to taxes. It's fair that teenagers get taxed when they work summer jobs.

watertown MA
Students should not get taxes taken out of their pay check if under 18 they don't make that much as is and may need the money to put towards college, car insurance, family etc...

Belleville/New York
Miss Colby/Belleville Henderson
teenagers should get taxes taken out of their pay checks. i think it may be good that they would get the tax return when that time comes, and they can use it to save for college or to buy a car. a teenager that saves their money could save up each year and eventually have enough to buy a house or whatever they need as they grow into adulthood

Mrs. Maura/South Sumter High School
I think teenagers should get taxes taken out of their paycheck until they are fully mature; 21 years old. Some students are too young and just want to save up for certain important benefits. Especially when someone young work so hard to make a great amount of money.

Sidney Mt
Brandon M.
Mr. Faulhaber
I think that it is ok for the government to take taxes out of high school students pay checks because in the overall look of things; it benefits us in the end.

Sidney, MT
Marcos A.
Mr. Faulhaber
Just like everyone else I don't like seeing the money that is being taken out of my pay check but, then I think about the public services that the money goes toward.

Sidney Mt
Mr. Faulhaber
If you are still under the age of 18 the government should not be able to take any money out of your check. It should be your money because you are trying to earn it for your needs not the governments needs. And its rediculous that if your making a $500 check and you only get $350 or $400 out of it thats not fair.

Irving Texas
Frankie R
Bradley Nimitz
Yes, I've been working at Champs Sports shoes store in the Irving mall. In retail. The job i have now is pretty good both pay for the work i do. Plus, my manager works around my school schedule. They will always be around. Of course as a teenager i hate every dollar I don't get. How things are now are how they'll be until something better comes along. Which I think will be a while since our economy is constantly changing.

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