Teen (Un)Employment

One of the big knocks on the new and improved economy is the status of (un)employment.  There’s a push amongst the fast food workers for a higher minimum wage of $15/hour and the response of the fast food industry is to automate the process, rendering the great majority of the workers obsolete.  But the real cost of an actual increase in the minimum to $15/hour will be borne by the teenagers, who are forced out of the job market entirely.  First, they came for the newspaper carriers and I said nothing, then they came for the yard work and I said nothing…  The worst regions of teen unemployment are in the urban areas and there are still part-time and summer jobs available for teens in our area, but there are signs that it’s getting interesting.

MIddle has worked on a part-time basis for a friend’s small organ repair firm for several years, initially doing the cleanup and yard work.  But he came in one day about two months ago and as we chatted, noted that one of the older guys at this small business had commented that he’d be leaving and that it would indeed be permanently.  He commented to my son that work was thinning out with far less to do so he might as well just retire.  The subsequent kitchen conversation with Middle centered around the idea that if there wasn’t sufficient work to keep the adults busy, his days as a teen employee would probably be numbered; that was indeed what happened as our friend had to release him for lack of work.  In the interim, Middle did look for other part-time jobs to keep some money in his pocket and his bank account.

What caught my attention was what he encountered at a fast food restaurant.  This is actually a pita joint that we’ve frequented and in a nearby college neighborhood.  The food is decent and the owner was advertising at one point for help.  Middle took an application and then completed it; what he found when he returned it however, was that they wouldn’t accept it unless he also provided a resume.  Seriously, a resume?  It’s a variant of a fast food joint and the guy is asking for a resume before considering the application?  Part of my internal monologue is that there’s a reasonable explanation for this, perhaps to teach the youngsters how to walk through the process and give them a taste of what is really required when they hit the pavement looking for a job.  Yet the other part of me responds that it’s a pita joint fer chrissakes, so have we reached the point that the increased competition is going to be handled much as though they were applying for a position at Chase?  The tongue-in-cheek remarks about delivering newspapers and mowing yards are actually true, as the teens are pushed out of those jobs by adults who have in turned been pushed out, much as Native American tribes jostled with one another – sometimes violently – as many moved westwards to escape the coming of the settlers. 

Most Americans don’t think past the short-term implications such as the kids having less spending money and more free time.  But there is a longer-term implication as is already being seen in Europe, particularly along the southern periphery, with youth unemployment reaching upwards of 40% and higher.  This is a society-killer as the young adults, locked out of adulthood and unable to get a real start on their own, turn surly and ultimately violent.  This is the condition which has led in part to any number of disturbances as desperate and dissatisfied young adults turn to violence to show their frustration.  But now the trend towards teen employment has turned a corner and it’s come to a small, mostly white-bread Mid-Atlantic city where teens are being expected to handle job searches as adults for positions that will never allow them to afford actually taking their place in the economic world of independent adults.

For the record, Middle took my advice and let it go, finding another job as he proceeds through high school.

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