Thursday, May 29, 2008

Happy Graduation; Now Go Find a Summer Job...If You Can

Graduation ceremonies for the schools where I teach begin tonight (though I don't have any seniors at tonight's school; more on that in a few days). And quite a few of these newly-minted grads will be looking for summer jobs, if they haven't done so already. Unfortunately, the job market for teens is the worst that it's been in decades:
The summer job market is shaping up as the weakest in more than half a century for teenagers, according to labor economists, government data and employers.

That jeopardizes what many experts consider a crucial beginning stage of working life, one that gives young people experience, confidence and pocket money.

[...]Little more than one-third of the 16- to 19-year-olds in the United States are likely to be employed this summer, the smallest share since the government began tracking teenage work 60 years ago, according to a paper published by the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston.

[...]As older people stay in the workforce longer and as experienced workers lose jobs at factories and offices, settling for lower-paying work in restaurants and retail, some teenagers are being squeezed out.
From my informal survey of students, this appears to be the case; those who already have jobs (or are returning to seasonal work, such as lifeguarding, from previous summers) are doing OK, but the ones who are looking for a job from scratch aren't doing very well.

One paragraph in the story puzzled me:
But some economists contend that the drop is largely a favorable trend, reflecting a rising percentage of teenagers completing high school and going on to college. In wealthier households, many have come to see summer work as a waste of time that could be spent gaining an edge in the competition for entry to elite colleges.
Umm...with gas at $3.75 a gallon out here, I don't know of too many kids whose households are wealthy enough for them to not have to work at the moment. And those who are trying to get into "elite" colleges are such a small minority that they should barely rate a mention in this story. By and large, Joe College needs a job nowadays.

But let's talk about one of the main reasons that teens can't find jobs anymore:
At the lower end of the market, adult Mexican immigrants, in particular, pose competition for jobs traditionally filled by younger Americans, like those at fast food chains.
As I've said before, I grow weary of those people who say that illegals "do the jobs that Americans refuse to do" when there is an entire class of people--students--who would probably be very happy to have those jobs right about now.

And it would be a good thing if they did. Allow me a geezer moment here--an excerpt from the earlier post, to be precise--while I explain why I think that every young person needs to hold at least one really crappy job in his or her life:
My first job was at McDonald's, and it was a really crappy job. But it was also a real eye-opener for me, because I got to interact with the managers: People who were way too grey and way too fat for their age; who had a few heart attacks before age 40 and generally seemed to hate their everyday existence; people for whom fast food was their life. I saw these people and thought to myself, "I will not grow up to be like these people," and indeed, I kept my nose to the grindstone and made something of myself. I feel bad that many of today's youth have lost out on this opportunity, as well as the opportunity to simply have a job during high school or college.
I'm not sure if there's a complete solution to this problem; after all, the teens are also competing with downsized older adults for those lower-end jobs now. But I still say we need to be looking after American citizens first; the poor from other countries can have our spare jobs once everyone from here who needs a job, has one.

Best of luck to the young people in my sphere who are looking for work at the moment.

Kids say the darnedest things: I haven't had a post in this vein for a while, but I had a funny exchange with a sixth-grader this morning. She was getting ready for a concert tonight, and one of the songs they were playing was the Beach Boys' "Barbara Ann." Here's what followed:

KID: We're playing Barbara Ann tonight.
ME: So I see. That's my mom's name, you know.
KID: Barbara Ann?
ME: Yes, but with an E on the end.
KID (looks puzzled, hesitates a second): On the Ann?

I assured her that, yes, it was Anne that had an E on the end, and that my grandparents liked Mom too much to name her "Barbarae."

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