In the past decade, the number of working teens has decreased by more than 40 percent. It’s damned difficult to find a job, even a part-time one, if you’re young and inexperienced and a hormonal mess.
OK, hormones typically aren’t part of the equation, although I must say, emotional maturity is both underrated and difficult to judge when hiring. And I’ve known a few teenagers whose maturity superseded that of many of their elders. Ahem.
Anyway, as the national (OK, international) recession continues, there are fewer and fewer job openings in the “traditional” summer retail and service type jobs that teens once snagged. Mostly because adults who’ve lost better jobs now are settling for minimum-wage positions just to survive. Also, there have been significant government funding cuts to youth programs that once helped teens find employment, according to the National Consumers League.
Speaking of snagging, the website http://www.Snagajob.com currently lists 28, primarily part-time, jobs in the Asheville area that will consider hiring teens. Most are, of course, at fast food joints. It also seems that the Brevard Road Toys ‘R Us is hiring. Ugh.
I rarely visit fast-food restaurants, in fact only if desperate and on a road trip, but I’ve definitely seen fewer and fewer teens working around town. Yes, there are a few at the Ingles’ grocery store I frequent, but not many. Most of the service industry workers who help me out or handle my cash on a regular basis are adults.
I worry that teens are losing the chance to gain valuable experience in the real world by not having low-paid scut work summer jobs. I spent my teen summers working retail, lifeguarding and running a switchboard (yes, that ages me, but it was one with buttons, not one of those 1920s telephone operator line connectors that everyone imagines when I say that). All of those jobs were mind-numbingly dull, but I learned how to handle cash, how to be polite and helpful to random strangers, and how to explain to bored moms that while I would pull their drowning kid(s) out of the pool if necessary, I was not a babysitter in a bathing suit. In truth, lifeguarding is mostly about cleaning and maintenance. And yelling at people to get out of the pool every time there’s a distant rumble of thunder. Which, in the south in the summer, is every 10 minutes.
Of course, there’s always babysitting, which is how my 13-year-old currently is supplementing her allowance (although she can’t stay out too late unless parents mind paying her to sleep on their couch). My 10-year-old, on the other hand, is too young even to babysit. He can do basic yard work and house chores, but the cash for that comes from my rather meager pockets.
While teen job opportunities may seem dismal, there’s stuff such as lawn mowing, car washing and other jobs that teens can beg for from door to door. In the past decade, however, only once has a kid come to my door asking if I need any help with yard work.
Which brings me to another concern — is the economy so dire that teens aren’t even trying to find part-time or occasional employment? When I was growing up, there were kids knocking on the door almost every day in the summer asking if they could mow or wash or even help with basic home maintenance work, such as painting. There was significant hustling and competition going on in my little suburban hood among the lawn mowing teens back in the day. Not to mention the trash talking that went down between lemonade stands on opposite sides of the street.
Thus, I wonder if there’s also been a cultural change, partially due to the increase in so-called helicopter parenting. My parents expected me to find summer work, not because I necessarily needed the cash, but because I needed the experiences. Getting a regular paycheck made me feel more like an adult, and thus, act more like one.
In this era where kids are living with their parents for longer, mostly for economic reasons, and where parents often are more protective of their kids for longer, that seems like a good thing.