Editor’s Note: This article was first published in in July of 2013 as “3 Reasons Why Our Teenagers Can’t Find Jobs.” It is being reprinted as part of a new weekend series at PJ Lifestyle collecting and organizing the top 50 best lists. Where will this great piece end up on the list? Reader feedback will be factored in when the PJ Lifestyle Top 50 List Collection is completed in a few months… Click here to see the top 40 so far and to advocate for your favorites in the comments.
The employment rate among teenagers is incredibly dismal. I know this firsthand, since I have teens at home and teenage nieces and nephews who cannot find work. There’s an irritating theme that runs through family conversations about our unemployed teens, and the words I hear most often are “lazy” and “entitled.”
“I had a paper route when I was their age,” one of the older members of the family will tell me every time we get together. “They need to get out and hustle. Walk the neighborhood, mow lawns, weed gardens. There’s lots of jobs out there for teens.”
“They should get roofing jobs,” another family member exclaimed. “When I was a teenager in high school, the dreamiest guys were the summertime roofers since they had the most gorgeous tans. And they had the best bodies, too!”
The attitude towards teens today is one of disdain for the luxuries they enjoy and their lack of a good work ethic. Teens are spoiled, lazy, and unwilling to work hard. Do you believe this?
Listen up, older people. The world isn’t the same now as it was then, and that’s not good. Not good for our teens and not good for our future. The days of the paper route are gone. Here are the three reasons why teens can’t get jobs today, and why this is terrible for America.
1. High unemployment
Your teen is competing with adults for that first job. Teenagers have few skills, an undeveloped work ethic, and no experience. The adults looking for the same work are experienced, they have communication skills, and they’re desperate. Employers aren’t in the market of giving out charity jobs to inexperienced teens who haven’t figured out how to show up to work on time. They need good workers and they need them immediately. They have them. They have more than they need. Your teen doesn’t have a chance, and the employment figures show it. The teenage unemployment rate is a staggering 24%.
2. Illegal immigrants take jobs “Americans just won’t do.”
I live in Colorado. If you want your lawn mowed, you call a service and once a week a truck will unload two or three incredibly hard-working Hispanics who will mow, weed, and cart off the grass clippings in less than an hour.
You don’t have to deal with a lazy American kid who pauses in the middle of the job to set up a different playlist on his iPod. No haphazard weeding or indifferent weed-wacking. No missing a mowing day because they’re sick or have other plans.
This Mayhem advertisement is your worst nightmare of a lawn-mowing teenager:
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Then there are roofers. Instead of the high schoolers who once filled this industry, hammering their thumbs, spilling roofing tacks, and working on their tans during every possible break time, you have a team of men who show up, work hard, eat their lunches quietly under the shade of your tree, and finish the job in a single day.
House painting was once a favorite summertime occupation for teenagers and college kids. That’s gone. Carpet installation? Gone. My brothers once spent a summer painting telephone poles with creosote to preserve them. Gone. All of these jobs are filled with immigrants, many of them illegal, who get paid much less than teens, do an excellent job, and complain not at all.
3. Minimum wage has destroyed the lower rungs of the ladder to success.
Menial construction labor, like carting off small debris from a construction floor or sweeping it, doesn’t deserve minimum wage. It barely requires brain cells at all, which means it’s a perfect entry-level job for a teenager who has no developed work ethic, no skills, and no experience. But minimum wage laws require a company to pay far more than these jobs are worth, so companies have removed these jobs altogether. They’ll hire a service instead, or have one of their more highly skilled workers spend time on these tasks.
When my brother worked for a fast food chain (Mr. Clown) in high school, the manager employed a whole crew of high school students who were assigned dinky shifts at odd times. There’s no way this could support someone as a “living wage.” The purpose was to have lots of backup for teenagers who hadn’t figured out how to show up to work on time. If a teenager missed more than a few shifts, he was reluctantly fired. After the teen realized he really liked the spending money, he’ go to work at the other fast food chain right down the street (Mr. Crown), and eventually develop the skills he needed to keep a job. This low step on the ladder of success has been removed because of high minimum wage laws. If you don’t have the skills to do a good job, you’re not hired. Teens most often do not have those skills, and now they aren’t given the chance to learn them. Brad Hamilton of Fast Times at Ridgemont High doesn’t get hired as a fast food worker any more, not even one dressed as a pirate.
High unemployment, illegal immigration, and the minimum wage have destroyed the labor market for teenagers, and this is terrible. Why?
Why do our teens need jobs?
Teenagers need a job because they need practice. They’re not worth very much as workers. They’re lazy, scatterbrained, unable to remember instructions, and have no calluses on their soft hands. So really, why would anyone want to hire these unformed humans and begin the arduous process of turning them into skilled and eager workers?
Because our very future depends on it.
How did the hard workers of my parents’ generation and our generation become that way? They began as teenagers have throughout human history, by working with adults and learning from them. Don’t be fooled by their boastful memories. They started out just as lazy as our teenagers today. I guarantee you there were Lakota Indian teens who had to be rolled out of their warm buffalo hides on a chilly morning to go deer hunting. Skills, work ethic, the profound satisfaction of doing a job well — these are all learned. They don’t come as if by magic to teenagers. They have to be taught by adults.
Our culture has removed this important step from our teenagers’ lives and that harm carries from their teen years into their professional future. My brother interviews job applicants who have graduated from college and has expressed profound worries about the abilities of these newly minted professionals. They don’t understand how to come in to work on time, how to stay at work all day, how to focus on a task and complete it. They’re more worried about their social media, their benefits package, and their workplace. Mark Bauerlein of Bloomberg News writes: “In the 2011 survey, 40 percent of employers cited ‘inadequate basic employability skills’ as a reason for why they can’t hire and keep workers.” They have no work ethic. They’re stunted.
Teens need to learn the joy to be found in hard work. They need to work on a roofing crew all summer and bandage blisters on their hands. They need to wipe down a diner counter after closing time with their feet aching. They need, desperately, to linger over a broom and watch a skilled glazer or bricklayer move through their task with such grace that it gives them goosebumps. Our teens need these experiences. They need to know the satisfaction of doing hard work and earning money for it and feeling that glow inside them that means they’ve accomplished something. We are failing our entire society by not providing it for them, and we are depriving our teenagers of the tools they need to succeed in their adult lives.
We need to make those first steps on the economic ladder available to our teenagers, those lazy, entitled, scatterbrained darlings. They don’t stay that way long, if they’re just given a chance: