The teenager looking for work today faces the same reality as millions of other Americans - it is difficult to find and keep a job. As often happens during hard times, many jobs that are typically sought after by younger people are taken by older members of the working class. The statistics tell the same story: In July 2007 the 16-19-year-old national unemployment rate was 15.1 percent; by July 2009 it was 23.8 percent. (Source: U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics)
Many do not fully realize the benefits of teen employment and the effects of teen unemployment. There's a reason why colleges ask if you've ever had "work experience." Having a job, like playing a sport or an instrument, demonstrates commitment and responsibility. By definition, jobs give you interaction with others. If you shortchange people, they will be angry with you. If you are late, you will face consequences. If you respect people, likely they will respect you. Much of what is learned inside the classroom does not adequately prepare us for life beyond the classroom. Working is one way to prepare us for that life.
There's also a unique sense of accomplishment in making money on your own. This means that you've taken a step toward financial independence in not having things given to you by your parents, but achieving them through your own means. Furthermore, public ignorance about finance is notably widespread. A typical group of high school seniors answered only 52 percent of questions correctly in response to basic questions on personal finance, according to a study published by the University of Buffalo. In itself, having a job is not an economics course. But employment does give one a stake in society, and things like finance then begin to matter more.
We should bear in mind the adverse effects of teen employment as well. Research has shown that working more than 20 hours a week can lead to sleep deprivation and fatigue, poor performance in school, high levels of stress, and strained relationships. This is why it is important for adolescents to lead balanced lives and to discuss employment beforehand with their parents. If teens must work because they truly need the money, however, this just shows how greatly financial pressures can impact young people as well.
Teens don't get paid less. The jobs they have, with a few exceptions, pay less. It is no secret that flipping burgers pays minimum wage, or slightly above it. California minimum wage happens to be $8 per hour, which is 75 cents higher than the federal minimum wage. This is no cause for celebration, though. We Californians have more deducted out of our paychecks than workers in most other states.
I mentioned in my last column that making generalizations is costly and unfair. Well, flipping burgers pays less and teens often find themselves in these jobs. But look at the business model of In-N-Out Burger, a popular place for teens to work. The following is from its Web site:
"We start all our new Associates at a minimum of $10.00 an hour for one simple reason...you are important to us! And our commitment to a higher starting wage is just one of the ways in which we show it. Another way is through offering excellent benefits like flexible schedules to accommodate school and other activities, paid vacations, free meals, comprehensive training, and a 401k plan."
This single example goes against what we generally think of the relationship between young people and their jobs. Perhaps this teen fast-food employee does it for the money and other material benefits. But also, he or she feels valued. In turn, this worker comes to value the workplace and to understand this "adult" world.
We know it is unfortunate every time a job that puts food on the table is lost. When a job that puts a teen to work is lost, and when a job that could have put a teen to work is denied, that is unfortunate, too.
The Teen Wire provides a perspective on today's youth, in the face of a changing world. Daniel Morizono, a senior at San Ramon Valley High School and news editor of the Wolfprint can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.