Tax Day Is This Statue Of Liberty's Last Day Of Work

Apr 15, 2013
Originally published on April 15, 2013 1:28 pm

The intersection of Crenshaw Boulevard and 28th Street looks like a lot of intersections in Los Angeles: There's a Taco Bell on one corner and a strip mall with a liquor store and a Liberty Tax Service office on the other. And out in front, as traffic speeds by, 27-year-old Robert Oliver is hard at work — dancing.

"So, chest movements like this, this is called bucking," he says. His chest bounces to the beat. His Bluetooth headphones are on. And his feet glide across the hot sidewalk like he's on ice. "I come up in here and I go down, and that's called a kill-off."

He gracefully collapses into a pile of limbs, stacked on his feet, with his work outfit pooling around his crumpled legs.

Oliver is dressed as the Statue of Liberty. Liberty Tax Service hires 24,000 part-time seasonal workers to drum up business, dancing and waving at cars.

"I'm never embarrassed to be out here," Oliver says. "I'm proud of what I do. I can dance and not get pulled over by the cops and arrested. And I like dancing anyways. So if I'm not going to be doing it here, I'm going to be doing it somewhere else. But here I get to get paid for it, so it's great."

It's part time and minimum wage (he makes $8 an hour). Oliver says he's happy with that for now. One perk of the job: free tax prep. But he doesn't take advantage of it. He has his own tax preparer: Mom.

Oliver still lives at home with his mother, Vivian Oliver. "I usually use TurboTax," she says.

Sitting in the living room, they talk about his taxes and his work, and they open his W-2s for the first time. They don't add up to a lot. On one, his earnings totaled $398. On the other, he guesses he earned about $1,000.

"A thousand? No, not even close," says his mother. "Honey, you only worked there a couple of days. $114."

For the year, he's earned $512. That's not much, but he's optimistic.

"That's not good, you know, that's terrible," he says. "But for me it's kind of like, where there's a will, there's a way, you know?"

When he has work, Oliver works hard. He sold incense and oils at malls, gas stations and on Venice Beach — unsteady work he really liked. He says he's tried to get a full-time job, but it's tough. He doesn't have computer skills, he doesn't have a driver's license, and he just got his GED last year.

"He worked on his GED longer than anyone alive," his mom says.

On the ride back to work, Oliver opened up a little more about his life and why he and his mother are upbeat about his future.

"When Mom adopted us, I didn't even know how to read and write," he says.

Oliver was 8 when he and his younger sister were adopted. Before he got to his mother's house, he says, he had cycled through five different foster homes. His mother put a stop to that. She nurtured him and gave him stability.

"The skills that I have learned since I've been with Mom — I'm very thankful for that," he says.

He has learned to read, learned to communicate better, has had years of therapy, and has become part of a vibrant church community. For Oliver, this job is an accomplishment. It's a world away from the life he saw for himself.

"I probably would've joined a gang, and I probably would've did things that I know I shouldn't have been doing, and I probably would have been in jail or dead," he says.

He heads back into the office to get into his Statue of Liberty outfit, clamp on his headphones and hit the corner. This Tax Day is his last day here, until next January, if he still needs the job.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

OK. April 15th is the biggest day of the year for tax pros - accountants, auditors, inspectors and thousand of others. But set them aside for a moment because we're going to spend some time with a young man who has one of the least glamorous jobs in the tax business.

Here's NPR's Nina Gregory.

NINA GREGORY, BYLINE: Crenshaw and 28th Street looks like a lot of intersections in Los Angeles - a Taco Bell on one corner, and a strip mall with a liquor store and a Liberty Tax Service office in the other. And out in front, as traffic speeds by, 27-year-old Robert Oliver is hard at work - dancing.

ROBERT OLIVER: So, chest movements like this, this is called bucking,

GREGORY: His chest bounces to the beat. His Bluetooth headphones are on. And his feet glide across the hot sidewalk like he's on ice.

OLIVER: And I come up in here and I go down and that's called a kill-off, you know.

GREGORY: He gracefully collapses into a pile of limbs, stacked on his feet, with his work outfit pooling around his crumpled legs.

OLIVER: I'm wearing kind of a gown.

GREGORY: It's more of toga.

OLIVER: With a hat that's shaped like a star.

GREGORY: A green toga and velour star shaped hat. Robert Oliver is dressed as the Statue of Liberty. Liberty hires 24,000 part-time seasonal workers to drum up business, dancing and waving at cars.

OLIVER: I'm never embarrassed to be out here. I'm proud of what I do. I can dance and not get pulled over by the cops and arrested. And I like dancing anyway, so it's like if I'm not going to be doing it here, I'm going to be doing it somewhere else, but here I get to get paid for it so it's great.

GREGORY: It's part-time, minimum wage. He makes $8 an hour. And Robert says he's happy with that for now. One perk of the job: free tax prep, but Robert Oliver doesn't take advantage. He has his own tax preparer.

VIVIAN OLIVER: I usually use Turbo Tax.

GREGORY: That's Vivian Oliver, AKA mom. Robert still lives at home with her. Sitting in the living room, they talk about his taxes, and his work and they opened his W2s for the first time. And they don't add up to a lot. On one, his earnings totaled $398. The other, Robert guesses he earned about $1,000.

(SOUNDBITE OF ENVELOPE OPENING)

OLIVER: A thousand, no, not even close.

OLIVER: Not even close?

OLIVER: No, no, honey, you only worked there a couple of days - $114.

(LAUGHTER)

GREGORY: Five hundred twelve dollars in income for a year. Not much. But Robert's optimistic.

OLIVER: That's not good, you know, that's terrible, but for me it's kind of like where there's a will, there's a way, you know?

GREGORY: When he has work, Robert Oliver works hard. He sold incense and oils at malls, gas stations and on Venice Beach, unsteady work he really liked. He says he's tried to get a full-time job, but it's tough. He doesn't have computer skills. He doesn't have a driver's license. He just got his GED last year.

OLIVER: He worked on his GED longer than anyone alive.

GREGORY: Robert had to get back to work. On the ride, he opened up a little more about his life and why he and his mother are upbeat about his future.

OLIVER: When Mom adopted us, I didn't even know how to read and write.

GREGORY: Robert was eight when he and his younger sister were adopted. Before he got to his mother's house, he says he had cycled through five different foster homes. His mother put a stop to that. She nurtured him and gave him stability.

OLIVER: The skills that I have learned since I've been with Mom, I'm very thankful for that.

GREGORY: He learned to read. He learned to communicate better. He's had years of therapy. He's become part of a vibrant church community. For Robert Oliver, this job is an accomplishment. It's a world away from the life he saw for himself.

OLIVER: I probably would've joined a gang and I probably would've did things that I know I shouldn't have been doing and I probably would have been in jail or dead or...

GREGORY: He heads back into the office to get into his Statue of Liberty outfit, clamp on his headphones and hit the corner. This Tax Day is his last day here, until next January, if he still needs the job.

Nina Gregory, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.