Sunday, July 20, 2008

Barack and Michelle: "summer jobs, college debt"

Lynn Sweet (Chicago Sun-Times):
As part of their stump speeches, Sen. Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, rely often on their life stories, how they came from modest means, rarely adding new details about their early years even after months of campaigning. Read on, because for the first time, the Obamas have decided to share how they paid for their Ivy League educations and the jobs they held while in school.
On the campaign trail, I've heard them both often lament about how, back in the day, money was tight and their loans for their undergraduate years and Harvard Law School were never paid off until after Obama signed a $1.9 million book deal in 2004.

And recently, Obama came out with a spot where a narrator talks about how "he worked his way through college and Harvard Law," a claim that reminded me how much there is to know about Obama, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, since he never talks about jobs he held as a student and didn't write about them in his memoir.

So what's the record? As a high school student, Obama's first job was at a Baskin-Robbins ice cream store. He also has mentioned he worked construction. And we know about the famous summer job between his second and third years of law school at Sidley Austin in Chicago, where he met Michelle, who was already at the firm. The summer before, Obama worked at Hopkins & Sutter, a law firm in Chicago.

Here's what we know for the first time, with information passed on from the Obama campaign in response to my inquiries: As a college student at Occidental in Southern California, Obama returned home to Hawaii the summer after freshman year to sell island trinkets in a gift shop. Obama also had a summertime job at a deli counter in Hawaii -- making sandwiches.

Once in New York to attend Columbia, one summer Obama worked for a private company holding a contract to process health records of either police or firefighters; I'm not sure exactly what he did.

During one school year at Columbia, Obama was a telemarketer in midtown Manhattan selling New York Times subscriptions over the phone, wearing a headset. He did not like the job because "he worried that some of the people he called couldn't really afford the subscription."

Michelle Robinson Obama worked at what was known then as Bob Goldman's Book Bindery in 1980-1981 while a Whitney Young High School student in Chicago.

Once at Princeton, she worked for all four undergraduate years at the Third World Center on campus, part of a paid work-study program where she started a child care program.

During the summers of 1982, 1983 and 1985, she was employed at the Chicago-based American Medical Association as an assistant to the executive director. She was a typist and helped prepare materials for the big AMA fall meeting.

But the summer of 1984 brought a new experience for Michelle: She was a camp counselor at the Fresh Air Fund (Camp ABC) in New York state, working with campers from the city.

After her first year at Harvard Law, she was a summer associate at the old Chadwell & Keiser law firm in Chicago. The next year, she was a summer associate at Sidley, splitting the summer between the Chicago and Washington offices.

The Obamas complain about their college debt, but they did attend expensive schools. Obama took out $42,753 in loans to pay for Harvard tuition. Michelle signed notes for $40,762 in loans for her Harvard years.

Obama had a full scholarship for his freshman year at Occidental, taking out loans -- the best I could get was "tens of thousands" to pay for the rest of his undergraduate school, with some help from his grandparents. At Princeton, as mentioned, Michelle had the work-study grant, got some help from her folks and took out "tens of thousands" of loans to pay tuition.

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