Get A Job!
Summer work means lifelong lessons for teens
By Cecily Hastings
My late husband Jim and I had a simple plan for raising our son Alex. For the first 10 years, our goal was to help him develop a love of learning. Before schooling began, we taught reading and numbers. We learned through play and fun.
The second decade focused on helping Alex develop a love of work. That was easy. We both worked at home and as community volunteers. He watched us run our business. He did simple jobs, sent faxes, opened mail and unloaded newspapers.
It paid off. After a summer of junior lifeguard training, he secured a paid city lifeguard position on his 16th birthday.
Alex was assigned a pool far from our neighborhood. He took public transit to work each day. He managed his own schedule and took his job seriously. He opened his own bank account. His skills expanded tremendously that summer.
I had various jobs as a teen, starting at age 13 with babysitting. Earning money and being independent was a thrill. My first job was scooping ice cream, followed by a lifeguard career that paid my college tuition.
The product of a middle-class, intact family, I needed zero encouragement to get a job. But many children these days need significant encouragement. Far too many family situations don’t offer positive role models for work.
Sacramento has an extensive youth workforce program offering lifeguard, landscape, community projects and other work-skill development opportunities. They serve young people ages 10 to 17.
The city’s goal is to empower young people with knowledge, resources, opportunities and support to help them gain employment skills. Through these programs, young people practice newly acquired talents in safe, supportive environments.
Research shows gainful employment strongly correlates with a reduction in delinquent behavior.
The Wall Street Journal reported an analysis of New York City’s summer youth employment program, the nation’s largest. The analysis found participation “decreases the chance that youth are arrested during the program summer by 17 percent and decreases the chance that they are arrested for a felony during the program summer by 23 percent.” Other cities show similar numbers.
Long before the pandemic, summer jobs for teens were in decline. Labor participation by teenagers has dropped for more than 40 years. The decline in the past two decades has been sharp. In 1978, job participation among 16- to 19-year-olds was nearly 60%. Today, it’s 37%.
One reason fewer young people work is minimum-wage laws can make them too expensive to hire, an economic reality that proponents play down or ignore.
I went to lunch a few weeks ago with two mothers, each with teenagers at home. They told me about their children’s interests and activities. Summer jobs were never mentioned.
When I asked about summer employment, specifically lifeguard opportunities, both moms dismissed it. One said her son could never pay attention enough to be a lifeguard.
The other was concerned her daughter and their family were too busy for summer employment. I gently asked both to consider the positive impact a job would have on their children’s future and explained how my son benefited.
Sometimes parents pigeonhole their children. But at some point, every young adult must stand on their own and make a living. It seems to me the sooner this happens, the better.
During the summer of 2021, I visited a shopping center to return a piece of internet equipment. The young clerk who helped me was sullen, even behind her mask. I asked if she liked her job.
She told me she had just been called back to work after almost a year off “doing nothing but living on social media.” She was grateful to have a paycheck again. But many of her coworkers resented returning to work, she said.
“Folks your age can take time off and still retain your work skills because you probably worked for decades,” she told me. “But people my age just started working and learning how to manage a job when the world shut down. It kept us as dependent children when we should have been growing up.”
We all want a brighter future for our children. A job is the best thing for young people. It creates security and independence. Getting more teens into summer employment will pay off now and for generations.
Cecily Hastings can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram: @insidesacramento.