Some young people go out and find jobs, and are appreciative of the opportunity. But most don’t, never having the experience of what it means to work, to work for someone, to take orders, to do things they find “unpleasant,” to earn money that fails to meet their expectations of self-worth.
When they finally enter the workforce, they are shocked to find that they aren’t appreciated in the ways they were told they deserve. Their boss doesn’t respect them like their mommies, or their professors. Their opinions, so valid and respected before, are now worthless and unappreciated. Their superiors are stupid because they don’t do or think as they feel they should. They are not merely disappointed, but crushed by the failure of employment to meet their great expectations.
The New York Times, as so many others, sees a connection between the misery of young people entering the workplace with the lack of work experience growing up. It decries the demise of the summer job.
When summer jobs were plentiful, young people gained skills and experiences that made them attractive to future employers. Research has shown that people who fail to find work early in their lives run a risk of being unemployed and underemployed into early adulthood and beyond. The effect is far worse for people in poor, minority communities, where jobs are fewer and unemployment rates are many times the national average.
Of course, the Times’ editorial isn’t directed toward the intrinsic value of work, as much as the call for a government program.
The only solution to youth unemployment is for Congress to reinstate some version of the summer jobs program it abandoned in the late 1990s.
Of course, how to pay for this program is left out of the analysis, under the assumption that the magic will give rise to a robust economy where money will fall from trees to cover the national debt. But then, that’s a different problem than the one raised by the fact that too few young people experience the virtue of work.
One piece of the mess involves the expectation that young people will not merely get a job, but one that is exciting, pleasant, interesting, well-paying and never so taxing as to make their head hurt. Would it matter to learn that old people worked some peculiar, hard, unpleasant jobs before they achieved the sort of success young people believe themselves entitled to from the outset?
Maybe, so let’s try an experiment: What jobs did you do that were nasty, weird, hard or particularly unusual, before getting on the path to becoming Master of the Universe. Mine?
- “Warm body” at a nuclear reactor
- Window washer
- Towel boy at a Times Square sex club
- Wells Fargo security guard at a police weapons warehouse
- Drummer in a rock and roll band
- Counterman at a deli, where I lost the tips off two fingers cleaning the meat slicer
Update: For reasons I can’t explain, I neglected to mention that I spent two summers as a “horseback riding instructor” at a summer camp, where my primary duty was shoveling the manure out of the stalls in the morning, keeping the trough filled with water, repairing bridles and saddles, and grooming the horses. They were two of the best summers of my life. That Woodstock happened just down the road apiece was a large part of that. They didn’t call it the Summer of Love for nothing.