Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Blaming the youth

Rita got there before I had a chance: Kay Hymowitz (a relative?) does indeed feel nostalgic for a time when teenagers had normal, wholesome, all-American summer jobs, rather than unpaid, resume-boosting, class-dividing internships. Since I've already discussed my take on unpaid internships-as Rita also argues, if something is a job, it should pay in something more than just experience- so this post will have to be about the poorly-paid traditional summer jobs. I agree with Hymowitz that globalization has something to do with their demise, but not for the reasons she gives. She explains:

There's little question that the demise of the summer job is due in part to globalization. For one thing, with millions of low-skilled immigrants around, service industries don't need to rely on kid labor the way they used to. Lawn-care companies and fast-food restaurants can now employ a more permanent adult staff. And, according to Neil Howe, an expert on age cohorts, kids are so used to seeing immigrants doing that sort of work that they assume "I don't have to mess with food or cleaning stuff up." Ironically, the same kids whose parents are paying $4,000 for them to go to Oaxaca to build houses for the poor can't imagine working for money next to Mexican immigrants at the local Dunkin' Donuts.

More important, globalization means competition. In this respect, kids are little different from auto companies: They're vying with their peers in Asia and Europe, as well as those here at home. Many school reformers bemoan the measly American requirement of 180 days of school and point ominously to the competition in Japan, where classes are in session 250 days a year. Mr. Howe says that in just about every school he visits, the principal is walking around with a copy of Thomas Friedman's "The World Is Flat" under his or her arm. According to Mr. Howe, everyone is asking: "Why should kids be dressing hamburgers and filling tacos when they could learn to get better SAT scores or lay building blocks for an education over the long term?"

Hymowitz glosses over her first point, that the places that used to hire middle-class teens no longer need to do so. She then places the burden on these teens themselves for snobbishly avoiding food-service work. I don't doubt that snooty teenagers exist, but the important issue is that these jobs wouldn't be available even to a high-schooler interested in taking one. I know, in part because I was once that teenager, turned down for a whole series of paid/character-building/etc. jobs because I was judged, correctly, as being college-bound. Especially in a place like Manhattan, where food service jobs are divided between those taken by newly-arrived models and those occupied by less uniformly glamorous immigrants looking for long-term work, the competition for what sounds like a traditional summer job is in all likelihood greater than that for an internship, if you're in the demographic that's expected to do an internship. Even if you don't fill out your Starbucks application in a Lilly Pulitzer sun-dress, employers make a judgment, and if they figure you neither need the job to feed your family nor intend to stay on for years nor have a contract with Ford Models, you will not get the job. Presumably that last qualification is not an issue outside of Manhattan. The point is that the competition for high-powered and high-paying jobs has increased, but it may be that the competition for less exciting-sounding jobs has gone up even more.

1 comment:

Miss Self-Important said...

Oh, good. I was looking for your post on internships when I was writing mine, but apparently it lives on gothamist. It shall be duly appended.