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South Williamsport, PA
United States

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The Summer Job Disappearing Act

Another monumental shift in society — in the summer of 1978, 60% of teenagers were working or looking for work. By 2016, only 35% were doing that! Now, don’t be quick to judge (as I was) and say the kids these days are too lazy to hit the job trail. Many are spending more time

Another monumental shift in society — in the summer of 1978, 60% of teenagers were working or looking for work. By 2016, only 35% were doing that! Now, don’t be quick to judge (as I was) and say the kids these days are too lazy to hit the job trail. Many are spending more time pursuing education.

Many ambitious teens are taking summer school classes to “get ahead” and prepare for an upcoming tough college curriculum. In fact, the percent of recent high school graduates enrolled in college is up 25%. That, believe it or not, is almost the exact same as the decline in the teenage labor-force participation rate.

Thus, summer classes are the new summer jobs.

Goodbye to the lifeguards, the paperboys, the kids who used to shovel ice cream or flip burgers at your local eatery. The percent of 16 to 19-year-olds enrolled in summer school has tripled in the last few years.

Good for our young adult brainpower, bad for employers looking for “cheap help.”

However, another reason teens aren’t hitting the want ads is that some employers are less likely to hire them. Since the major recession of 2008-2009 many older adults are staying in the workforce longer, especially in secretarial or retail jobs. 30 years ago, an 18-year-old would be trying to sell you a lawn mower at Sears. Now it’s a 42-year-old father of three.

So what’s the better take? Have a teen learn the ropes and responsibilities of a part-time summer job, or further their education, preparing for the “long haul.”

Tough call.

But let’s go back to the summer of 1978 when I was a 16-year-old stallion and give you a point of view most of my peers had then.

First off, after the solid grind of the long school year, I was mentally and physically prepared to “enjoy” my summer to the fullest. Girls, bike rides, driver’s permit, family vacation, time at the tennis courts, mowing the lawn, going to the pool. I figured I was going to be a slave to labor the rest of my life, so why get started too early and burn myself out?

Something went off inside me though. I still got a summer job, as did many of my classmates, because we wanted to spend money. Green stuff wasn’t exactly growing on trees, and our parents were strapped with their own expenditures.

I landed a part-time (felt like full-time) gig as maintenance help for a small ice cream shop in Loyalsock — where Carvel used to stand! The summer before I delivered newspapers.

It really showed me how to manage time and energy as I would go to work, but still, find a slot to have some leisure and fun with friends — many of whom were in the same situation. Quite frankly, we enjoyed the extra money even though it bit into our summer vacation.

We pitied the kids attending summer school in the heat of the day. Let it be said, back in 1978, most of the kids going to summer school HAD to. They were merely trying to pass a course they failed during the regular school year! Thus, it was mandatory to go if they wanted to graduate or move on to the next grade!

Summer school was handed to me in college. It was a “must do” after a miserable (lazy) freshman year. But the time spent, when not staring out the window watching people wing Frisbees or playing hoops or laying out, was worth it. And when I say “spent” I literally mean it. Summer school, at any level, isn’t free. Teachers don’t “donate” time for you to catch up or get ahead. I forget my fee, but nothing at Lycoming College came at dime store rates.

So, it wasn’t with great surprise when I read Lou Hunsinger’s piece last week in Webb Weekly about the city pool lacking applicants for lifeguards. It all hits home now. Most teens I have spoken to lately have other things on their mind and agenda than obtaining a summer job. More worried about acceptance letters than folding shirts or stacking shelves at Target or Lowes. I have also spoken to employers; they say teen applications have tumbled from years past.

It’s nice to know this current crop is embracing more classroom work ethic, but it’s saddening that they aren’t getting a “taste” of real-world labor and ethics. It surely taught me things I couldn’t learn in the confines of four walls and an uncomfortable desk/chair combination!

Rewind to the 16-year-old Gerry in the summer of 1978. The money I saved from work went towards a new bicycle, some sneakers, an updated Fischer stereo system with (get this) 8-track tape player and turntable! Any money beyond that went for ice cream from the guy in the truck coming down our street. Oh, and a jar for my “Pontiac Trans-Am fund” — the car I lusted for in high school.

Flash to the current: kids don’t buy or ride bikes anymore for the most part. They purchase sneakers online without even trying them on. To them, an “8-track” is the number of lanes at the bowling alley. They buy ice cream at Sheetz from a see-through glass freezer. A guy in a truck? Who can wait for that?

And the Pontiac Trans-Am, a potent pony car named after a racing series in the late 1960s? It took a few decades to fill the coin jar(s), but one eventually came my way. Pontiac cars aren’t made anymore, and teens (the ones who want to drive) seek Honda Civics or VW Golfs anyway.

Education plus strong work ethic equals good things in life over time. So I must give the new wave of teenagers some credit, especially if they realize they can balance a summer job with classroom time.

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