Kitchen Table Economics

First Job Fridays: Paul Ryan

Even the most powerful people in Washington, D.C. started off on the first rung of the career ladder. As we noted a few months ago, President Barack Obama’s first job came as a teenager, when he spent his summers as a Baskin-Robbins ice cream scooper. The president learned a lot of lessons along the way: “Responsibility. Hard work. Balancing a job with friends, family, and school.”

He’s not alone. Across the aisle, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan also got his start in customer service. At the age of 16, Ryan landed a summer job as a fry cook at his local McDonald’s. In addition to flipping hamburgers and cooking french fries, the House Speaker washed dishes and cleaned tables when he had some down time. But he never got down about the job at hand:

“[W]hen I was growing up, you know, when I was flippin’ burgers at McDonald’s, when I was standing in front of that big Hobart machine washing dishes or waiting tables, I never thought of myself as stuck in some station in life. I thought to myself, I’m the American dream on a path and journey so that I can find happiness however I can find it myself.”

In other words, Ryan saw his first job as an opportunity to learn and climb the career ladder. Working at McDonald’s went beyond flipping burgers and serving hungry patrons—it was a pathway to personal and professional growth.

Ryan took up several “really interesting jobs” as a young adult. While in college, the House Speaker worked as an Oscar Mayer salesman, peddling turkey bacon and “Lunchables” to nearby supermarkets. He even drove the company’s famous Wienermobile. That’s not all: When Ryan began working as a congressional staffer right after college, he tried out waiting tables at a Mexican eatery on Capitol Hill just to earn extra pocket money. After some time, Ryan transitioned to working as a trainer at a local gym, turning his love of fitness into supplementary income.

But it all started with McDonald’s—Ryan’s first crack at professional life. As he recently tweeted, “If you work at McDonald’s, someday you too can be Speaker of the House.”