Tuesday, June 01, 2010
Long before the Great Recession began, fewer teenagers were gainfully employed:
I speculate that the changing attitudes of college admissions officers and other credential bestowers may have something to do with the declining rate of teenage employment. Back when I was coming up, there was no suggestion that a paying job, no matter how manual, was less worthy in the college admissions game than uncompensated do-gooderism or white collar internships. It seems that has changed in the last twenty years, and that kids applying to competitive schools believe they need to spend their summers building houses in the Third World or saving the planet (both of which activities cost money instead of providing it) rather than lifeguarding or making pizzas on the boardwalk or -- my job -- manning the night shift at a cheap motel just off of Interstate 80 in Coralville, Iowa. One is almost forced to wonder if the rise in teenage volunteerism promoted by colleges, secondary schools, and even the federal government has had the perverse result that ambitious teenagers no longer pursue paying work. This may be good -- I very much support volunteering -- but does it ultimately mean that our most academically ambitious kids are less self-sufficient and the least experienced in the ordinary lessons of life?
Because in theory, although certainly not in practice, I am an economist (an admittedly questionable concept), I wonder if it is less demand for jobs by teens who are otherwise off do-gooding or whatever, or less supply of jobs available to teens for whatever reasons. For instance, more regulations. My teen year jobs were always "off the books" and while I am sure this is still out there, is there less of this type of employment available to teens? (It would also depend on how these stats are compiled). I'm also guessing there is more competition for these typically low-skilled jobs from older folk who now take part-time jobs as cashiers, for example, and underemployed past-teens, particularly in recent years with the economic downturn. In any event, the last decade certainly looks like a massive change in pattern, for whatever reason.
Anyway, interesting topic, particularly since I have two teens. :)
I wonder if there is a tipping point effect. Demand for teen labor is driven down (more teens in urban areas; cheap illegal labor, e.g.); then it becomes less fashionable to work as a teen; etc.
Or if it is related to real disposable income of parents. This strikes me because, as a parent, I know that toys now are such a small fraction of what I can afford, that there is no real incentive to say no, often. Skipping ahead a few thoughts, I wonder how the statistics correlate with a tipping point in disposable income.
Stanford University gives a lot of admissions weight to volunteerism, so prospective students do volunteer work in senior centers, soup kitchens, etc. Years ago, my local paper had an article following up on volunteerism for Stanford graduates. If memory serves, less than 1% continued doing volunteer work after graduation. For the kids, it was just another hoop they had to jump through to get into college.
Think about what the "entry level" job for most teens back when our host and I were both young was ... cutting lawns. You could do it at 13 or 14, or whenever the neighbor offered you five bucks to cut his grass for him. Heck, you were doing it for your own father anyway, and five bucks is better than.
Well that train left the station a long time ago here in the NYC area; it was however where and how most kids started to work. That, or throwing papers from their bicycles. That has gone as well, all done by someone in a car at six AM, 'cause the routes have gotten longer, 'cause the papers are dying, and kids have X-box to play.
And their parents won't let them out at age 12 to ride a bike around the neighborhood because of the traffic or the "perverts" or whatever. Also the paper guy no longer wants to manage a string of adolescents, cutting half-a-dozen ten dollar checks with 1099's, when he can get one adult to do it.
One of my greatest career regrets was not working full time after high school at whatever was the best job I could get. Nothing instill the kind of discipline required to succeed in college, where one has so much more freedom, than a 9-5.
Volunteers don't tend to get fired, so there's another life lesson not learned.
You get social status for some teenage volunteering opportunities. There's something maturing about doing a thankless job where no one tells you what a nice person you are for doing it.
I wonder what the teenage and first jobs were of liberals versus conservatives?
"but does it ultimately mean that our most academically ambitious kids are less self-sufficient and the least experienced in the ordinary lessons of life?"
A porportion of the reason is illegal immigration. My daughter was chased off one of her jobs by illegal immigrants who wanted her position for their countrymen. The workforce was "diverse" when she was hired and "monocultural" when she left.
As for the life lessons, I had a discussion years ago with a co-worker who claimed he knew about life because he worked a part time job to help put himself through the university while living in a dorm. The more adult members of the group laughed and gave him a dose of reality. He sobered up real quick.
It's only a small percentage in the aggregate national figures that care about "volunteering" to improve their Ivy-ish admissability, I'd wager. There's more going on than that. We've spoiled our kids.
It's a pity.
I was a Bronx paper boy at 10, until I was 14. There's no end to what I learned. e.g, even at 11, I knew to collect at Mr Cicalli's house at around 7 pm each Thursday ... when the NYPD squad car was regularly out front ... (pre-Knapp Commission, pre-Serpico) ... very Goodfellas. I was Daily News ... the Post back then was an afternoon Commie rag. I expanded to deliver The NYT to the handful who wanted it ... and started to read it. It saddens me how far it's fallen. Back then, newspapers mattered much more in the mix. There was no end of Holy Shit Headlines from 1967 to 1972, mostly bad, which is why I know things these days aren't that bad.
Because of it's timing, the Holiest Holy Shit Headline I had was clipping open the stack at 6 am East Coast time to see this on the cover. Shot around midnight Pacific time, he'd still have been warm. Bad news on the doorstep .....
All three of my kids- including one a student at Stanford- work at paying jobs. I am hugely proud of them for this, but it's unique in my admittedly limited experience. It may be because work is devalued as a resume builder or perhaps kids all have such large allowances in the present age that they don't see the point of working, but I don't know any other family with kids all working.
By the way, It's not that we discourage volunteerism, because they volunteer too, but the priority is earning some pocket money even during the school year.
Jesus, TTIOT, RFK was shot the week I graduated from HS back East. I can remember staying up late the night of the California primary and listening to Kennedy's victory speech ending with "On to Chicago". I turned off the TV and went to bed - it was about 3AM EDT - he must have been shot minutes if not seconds afterwards; I only heard about it when my parents woke me up in the morning.
Some of what you're talking about is regional too. Here in our small town in Maine, the vast majority of high school kids get paying jobs in the summer, and many during the school year. And almost all go to college, but to state schools for the most part.
They also volunteer locally, but that's in addition to a paying job.
It tends to be people of higher economic privilege or "from away" - a distinct set - who travel and do the glamorous volunteerism thing.
tyree, I don't know why you seem to scorn kids working part-time when in college to help pay the bills. It seems that this is certainly a way to grow up more quickly and learn some life lessons over his/her peers who did not have to or chose not to work. Your "adults" in the room who laughed? Not a great example of "grown up" behevior....Just sayin.
Guess you had to be there. The point is that kids in school already live in a bubble separated from reality, even if they have part time jobs. Extending that time in a bubble by keeping them away from gainful enployment doesn't seem wise.
As to your conclusion, walk a mile in my shoes, my dear. He did sober up real quick. His response to our stories was, "I guess I really didn't learn much about real life in school," and "how did you survive all that?"
tyree, I don't think we disagree on the value of work, I'm just saying that work during school teaches a lot of lessons about finances, time management, privilege (or not) and the like. I don't see how working during school "extends" the time away from gainful employment unless you are arguing that kids should not go to college. It is certainly true that it may not be the best path for all or that alternatives to the current traditional path are not worth considering.
I used to hire a fair number of high school kids as labor for my business.
About 10 years ago years ago it started that every kid wanted go on vactation for 2 weeks after school ended. Then the wanted to leave 2 weeks early to go to football, chearleading, fill in the blank camp.
All of that was alot more important than a job.
These kids are much more self involved than they ever used to be. Everything is about them and what ehy want
Anon Attorney here--this post will out me to anyone who knows me. I grew up about 70 miles from Iowa City in farm country. Aside from delivering the Weekly Shopper (pay: $2/week) my first job, at age 12, was bailing hay. Ten to twelve hours per day of hard labor, pulling hay bales off the bailer, stacking the wagons, unloading the wagons and stacking in the barn, all in the heat and humidity of an Iowa summer. Pay: $10/day. We though we were in Heaven.
It was hard, dangerous, dirty work but it built a strong work ethic and a strong body too. I'll never forget going to college and being astounded at how soft, doughy, and weak the boys from suburban Chicago and Des Moines were. I'd never seen boys like this--it was a complete paradigm shift for me. I think all this farm work might be why Iowa has such a rich history of success in wrestling.
I'm now comfortably positioned in an upper middle-class suburb fairly far from the Midwest. I don't know of a single high-school kid in my neighborhood who has held a job. Not one.
Work for wages teaches way more about life than volunteer work, but part time work in school does not approach reality.
"a co-worker who claimed he knew about life because he worked a part time job to help put himself through the university while living in a dorm."
Bubble life isn't even close to the real thing. Non-paid bubble life is even further away. As I mentioned, after a few minutes of explantaion of what real life can throw at you, my young friend agreed that his college experience did not prepare him for what the older crowd had experienced.
And don't get me started on my father's generation, who was raised in a depression and won a world war before they even got to college.
I can only speak for myself, Tyree, but I learned an awful lot in college and not just about the subjects in officially sanctioned courses. In fact, perhaps mainly not about those topics, since much of the course material is long forgotten and other lessons, not so much. It is the "reality" that it is and not every college kid lives in a bubble, however you define that. I think the danger today is that so many kids of a certain affluence or parental/familial mindset don't learn some lessons they should early enough, experiencing independence or responsibility for their own lives/actions. Perhaps this is an emblem, symptom or outgrowth of our budding nanny state.
My own (admittedly rabid?) personal view is that every H.S. grad should serve in the army for year. Grow up a bit. Learn something about service. Maybe even get in shape. Just an idea.
tyree, I tend to think along the same lines about the reality of full-time work, but I think you are too confident in your generalising. Whatever you do in life, someone else will tell you it's not the real world. The guy who moves 100,000 carrots on paper from an office can be accused of not knowing the reality of carrots. The guy who runs the printing company who makes textbooks can be accused of not knowing the real world of educating a roomful of hyperactive kids. At-home moms are sometimes thought of as sheltered from the real world, as are people in the military. Married people think the unmarried haven't seen real life. Divorced people think the still-married haven't seen it. And the 60th-anniversary couple with five grown kids thinks the divorced haven't seen it. You can pick apart anyone's experience of reality as being inferior to yours somewhere.
My third and fourth sons started school late because they were forced to be shepherds from age 6-8 to keep their father in palinka in Romania. They lived on bread and lard and whatever fruit they could steal for two years. Then they got sent to a state orphanage. Want to try telling them about your special real life, big guy? After all, they never worked at your jobs or walked a mile in your shoes, so they must not know about reality.
And Bomber Girl had a great point about the "adults" laughing at the earnest but misguided fool. Maybe there's a real life lesson about humility that you haven't mastered yet.