October 27, 2021

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Have You Had a Job Recently? What Has the Experience Been Like?

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Did you have a job this summer? According to The New York Times, it was “the best summer in years” for teenagers to find jobs. Was that your experience? Did you enjoy the work, or were you doing it mainly for the money?

Now that school has started, do you still have a job? What is it like to juggle school and work?

No matter when you’ve worked, if you’ve held a job during high school, what would you say are the positive things about working? The negative?

In an article published in May, “The Luckiest Workers in America? Teenagers,” Jeanna Smialek and David McCabe wrote about what made this summer different than others. The article begins:

Roller-coaster operators and lemonade slingers at Kennywood amusement park, a Pittsburgh summer staple, won’t have to buy their own uniforms this year. Those with a high school diploma will also earn $13 as a starting wage — up from $9 last year — and new hires are receiving free season passes for themselves and their families.

The big pop in pay and perks for Kennywood’s seasonal work force, where nearly half of employees are under 18, echoes what is happening around the country as employers scramble to hire waiters, receptionists and other service workers to satisfy surging demand as the economy reopens.

For American teenagers looking for work, this may be the best summer in years.

As companies try to go from hardly staffed to fully staffed practically overnight, teens appear to be winning out more than any demographic group. The share of 16- to 19-year-olds who are working hasn’t been this high since 2008, before the unfolding global financial crisis sent employment plummeting. Roughly 256,000 teens in that age group gained employment in April — counting for the vast majority of newly employed people — a significant change after teenagers suffered sharp job losses at the beginning of the pandemic. Whether the trend can hold up will become clearer when jobs data for May is released on Friday.

It could come with a downside. Some educators warn that jobs could distract from school. And while employment can itself offer learning opportunities, the most recent wave of hiring has been led by white teens, raising concerns that young people from minority groups might miss out on a hot summer labor market.

“A rising tide isn’t lifting all boats,” said Alicia Sasser Modestino, an economist at Northeastern University who studies labor markets for young people. Still, “there could be some really good opportunities for youth that we haven’t seen in a long time — that’s good.”

Students, read the entire article, then tell us:

  • Can you relate to anything in this article? Did you work this summer? If you’ve worked before, did you find a “pop in pay and perks” this year compared to other years? Was your job this summer satisfying, interesting or fun? Well paid?

  • This article was written in May. If you are working, or looking for work now, how much of it still seems true in October? Are jobs fairly easy to find? Do you think jobs are easier to find for white teenagers than for teenagers of color?

  • What do you look for in a job? Even if you’ve never had one, what do you imagine might be deal breakers for you, in terms of wages, work conditions, rules you must follow or anything else?

  • Have you ever had a memorably good — or memorably bad — job? What was it, and what made it memorable? Did you learn anything valuable from the experience?

  • According to this article, “Educators have voiced a different concern: That today’s plentiful and prosperous teen jobs might be distracting students from their studies.” Do you agree? If you work while attending high school, how distracting is your job? How do you juggle your responsibilities?

  • For teens whose wages are necessary to help with household expenses, do you think that school should be more lenient about assignments? What about students who have other obligations outside of academics, such as caring for younger siblings or family members who are ill? How should schools accommodate teenage work schedules, if at all, in your opinion?

  • What do you wish older people — whether your parents, your teachers or the boss at your job — understood better about teenage workers? What would you tell them if you could?

Want more writing prompts? You can find all of our questions in our Student Opinion column. Teachers, check out this guide to learn how you can incorporate them into your classroom.

Students 13 and older in the United States and Britain, and 16 and older elsewhere, are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.

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