The ongoing economic crisis has generated a multitude of unique story angles, but one angle that has turned some heads in recent weeks is the discussion around how summer jobs for teens have all but disappeared.
The Associated Press reported in June that seven in 10 American teens are jobless this summer. Apparently that is the lowest level of employment in the country for 16-to 19-year-olds since World War II.
According to the report, there are many reasons for the drop in teen employment. They range from a cultural shift where more youths spend summer months in school or at music or learning campus geared for college.
The report also indicates that the weak economy has caused older workers, immigrants and college graduates in debt to take away lower skill-level jobs in their struggle to find gainful employment. Overall, 45 percent of teens who want summer jobs don’t get them or work fewer hours than they prefer.
While some, such as a columnist for The Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom who called the issue a “sideshow in this economic crisis,” encourage teens to finish college before worrying about the workplace, the issue got me reminiscing about some of my summer jobs in my late teens.
Some of my teen summer jobs — including two reporter internships at our very own Mountain Democrat, courtesy of friend and editor Mike Raffety — helped steer me toward my career in communications.
Others such as driving a forklift and working in the lumber yard at the now defunct Plywood Place taught me that honest, hard work could still be fun. And still others such as spending a month home from college working an assembly line at the Paul Bunyan Lincoln Log Mill in El Dorado reaffirmed every minute that I was making the right decision working toward a college degree.
Despite the heat, dust and a modest but fair wage (if I recall correctly) of about $5 an hour, that Plywood Place job still represents one of my all-time favorite gigs. Maybe it is because I’ve spent my entire post-college career in an office or on the road, but it was pure and simple to pilot a forklift for hours a day across a gravel lumber yard and build lumber loads for drivers that would transport to building sites.
I still recall dumping an entire load that I had secured improperly in front of the company owners one afternoon. To my relief, they shook it off in stride. I also recall strapping big boom box radios to the seats of the forklift with a childhood friend who worked with me so we could listen to rock and roll. I seem to remember on a few occasions daydreaming on my forklift that I was Mad Max tearing down a deserted highway.
And the Mountain Democrat summer internships, coupled with additional internships in television and newspapers in college, helped lead to my early work as a journalist and later my transition to public relations. I remember being one of a few members in my graduating class with a resume full of work experience coming out of college, and it helped me land a job in my field right out of school.
I know times change and we have to evolve with them, but a part of me felt for today’s youth when I considered them not having the same teen work experience that many of us had growing up. I selfishly become even more concerned when I wonder what the environment will be like later this decade when my own sons are ready for teen jobs.
Of course, we all feel for the unemployed across the board, and hope the economy gets back on track sooner than later. But our experiences help make us who we are, and those early work years for many of us shaped our work ethic and career direction. It’s probably Pollyannaish, but I hope those experiences return for future generations.
Dan Francisco is an El Dorado Hills-based public relations consultant to the high-tech industry.