It’s June. Get A Job.
Well, this is alarming.
In a Wednesday New York Times piece headlined, “Advice For Teenagers Looking For Summer Jobs,” the writer essentially admitted that her story was pointless, because fewer and fewer kids are even looking for summer work.
There are lots of jobs around but it seems most teens would rather spend their time taking classes, playing sports or doing, well, almost anything other than toiling at a minimum wage job.
A 2018 Pew poll of teenagers 16 to 19 showed that only 35 percent planned to get summer jobs. That’s a sharp drop from 51 percent in 2000.
I suspect that when I was a teenager - during the Jurassic Period - that percentage was close to 100.
I didn’t know anyone who didn’t work in the summers. We did everything from landscaping and waitressing to camp counseling and farm work.
None of the jobs paid well. We didn’t care. We had our own money.
In fact, my brother’s high school girlfriend - valedictorian of their class, I believe - took a job one summer crating corn. She was brainy as could be, but incredibly slow. Sadly, corn crating is piecework. Speed matters. Her first day on the job in the hot sun she earned less than a dollar.
Her pockets were empty that summer. But her tan was good and her corn-crating stories were hilarious.
Still, for most of us, that first paycheck was magnificent. Once you were earning your own money you were sprinting toward independence. You could buy that Rolling Stones album without your parents telling you to stop wasting money. You could go to the movies without hitting your parents for cash. You could dream about buying your first car.
Those menial summer jobs taught us a lot: We learned to get up for work every day. We learned to do a good job or get sacked. We learned to treat the public with respect. We learned to deal with boredom and the strain of manual labor and unpleasant bosses.
From my days waitressing I learned that hungry people are grouchy, but that even a pale dinner roll and a pat of butter, delivered quickly to the table, will cheer them up. From my summers cutting grass for Dougherty Realty - Slogan: List with us and we’ll mow your grass! - I discovered that there are a species of bees that live in the ground and when you run over their subterranean nests they will rise up in fury and sting the begeezus out of you. From my summer in a book bindery I learned the importance of focus, how one moment of distraction on a 100-year-old three-knife machine could cost you a finger. My partner on that cast-iron cutting monster was missing digits on both hands.
OK, that job scared me, but I came to believe that a summer of factory work would do everyone good.
Not many teens see it that way.
A few summers ago I asked an Oceanfront employer why he had so many foreign students working at his fast-food restaurant.
”Can’t find any American kids to work here,” he said with a shrug.
It’s tempting to blame the drop in teenage employment on protective parents, or spoiled children who regard unskilled work as worthless. And there’s lots of that at work here.
But there’s also intense pressure on teens to get into good colleges. A summer spent lifeguarding or flipping burgers is seen as wasted when they can be in summer school padding their resumes.
That’s a mistake.