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The Teenage Summer Job: A Learning Experience if You Can Find One

Connecticut seems to be faring better than the national average, but it's still tough to find work.

I had some seriously awful summer jobs, but the one that all but left me in need of serious therapy was working for Cumberland Farms the summer after I graduated from high school.

I worked the night shift, alone, either watching giant cockroaches scurry under the counters or trying in vain to get my friends to stop coming in and stealing Twix bars. What was my mother thinking letting a teenage girl work alone at night where there was a cash register? Probably that someone had to pay for college and that someone was me.

Two years later, I spent my best summer ever working at Disney World, so I guess that made up for it. I actually got college credit for that because it was part of the Magic Kingdom College Program. I lived with students from all over the United States in Snow White Village on Seven Dwarf Lane. 

Although I was not Snow White, due to my green eyes and very strong Philadelphia accent, I did work in Tomorrowland in Circlevision where visitors never moved but still managed to throw up on a regular basis. Once a week, a bus with a picture of Mickey Mouse in a cap and gown on the side picked us up and whisked us off to classes at Disney University (Go DU!). 

From what I read, teenagers across the country are less lucky than I was. According to a report from the Center for Labor Market Statistics at Northeastern University, the employment rate for teenagers this summer is between 25 and 27 percent. Ouch! That’s about half of what it was a decade ago, which still wasn’t so great. I did some very thorough research on this matter, which means I asked my friends who don’t live in Connecticut, and they concur that their kids are having a very hard time getting jobs this summer.

However, Connecticut seems to be doing better than the national average. WFSB reported this month that 157,000 teenagers between 16 and 19 years old found new employment in May, which is double what it was a year ago. In another very formal research analysis — meaning I asked my students and my kids’ friends what they are doing this summer — most seem to be getting some sort of job.

They may not be glamorous; a kid in my neighborhood is selling kitchen knives door to door, and one of my students is doing political canvassing, but they are earning money. Most of the kids I polled are working either at summer camps, including both of my sons, or as lifeguards. 

Aside from the pessimism spread by the research studies, kids who are resourceful and willing to get their hands dirty are more likely to get jobs.  What I find interesting is that the jobs they are getting seem to be the same kind of jobs kids were getting when I was a teenager. Just make sure they avoid working anywhere that requires them to stand alone in an industrial-sized refrigerator stocking milk at 3 a.m.

Amy Goldman June 16, 2012 at 12:18 PM
Meant to say "was" at BC...oops! I need an editor!
Spiff June 16, 2012 at 01:24 PM
I worked 32 hours a week at a gas station all through high school (evenings and weekends). This was supplemented during the summer when I wasn't in school with cutting grass, doing yardwork, etc. I had the nicest car of all my friends and always had pocket money. Kids now-a-days don't want to work. Their parents buy them cars and give them money so that they don't have to work. The motivation is simply not there. Many of the jobs that me and my friends had as kids are done by foreigners now. As you pointed out, Susan, kids can find jobs if they are "willing to get their hands dirty", unfortunately, most kids now-a-days don't want to.
Larry Ferrari June 16, 2012 at 05:46 PM
I worked on tobacco picking leaves, then graduated to driving the tractor then later in a gas station. After I became an Airport Electrician... I don't know what they do now? A job in fast food or stocking shelf's in a super market is a career for some of these kids... Its sad.
Susan Schaefer June 16, 2012 at 10:36 PM
Thanks Amy!
Kendall Svengalis June 17, 2012 at 01:47 AM
Great swaths of humanity are caught between an often economically useless college degree in a field for which there are insufficient jobs and no education beyond high school. In the drive to piush everyone into college, we have failed millions of young people who could have productive careers in any number of niche professions. And in the current Obama economy. millions of young people are unable to secure the summer or permanent jobs that will provide them with the essential job experience as a prelude for career advancement. And all because some politicians, Christopher Dodd among them, thought it was a great idea to force banks to lend to those who lacked either the down payment or credit worthiness to make the payments. The economic recession is entirely the result of idiotic government policies, whether easy money from the Federal Reserve or easy lending policies by banks forced to lend to those who should not hjave been buying a house. I grew up in a rented apartment, and spent three years working two jobs to afford a 20% down payment on my first house. Today, politicians try to make it all easier by pandering to voters, and look at the result.

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