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Teenage Unemployment, or A Butterfly Flaps Its Wings.

May 13, 2011

So countless articles have been written about the problems involving unemployment facing a good chunk of our country. As we all know the job market as it stands now is particularly harmful for young workers, like recent college grads who will over the coming months be filing out with their shiny diplomas that will get them no closer to jobs than their fellow job-seekers that have resumes with experience for as long as they’ve been alive. Of course, a lot has been written about that demographic of which I am a part, as well as the people older than me who have been turned out of their jobs as their industries implode but very little has been written about a seemingly small demographic: the high unemployment rate amongst teenagers. You might be thinking to yourself: Well who cares if damn kids can’t accrue purely expendable income? I hope that if you’re saying that you work in an industry that doesn’t rely on the willingness of people to part with their expendable income (mainly the food service and entertainment industries).

As I touched upon in the previous post, this past year has seen some odd things demographically when it comes to movies, simply based on the fact that there hasn’t really been a blockbuster film with a huge under eighteen demographic. Once more, this could be merely because it is not truly the summer yet and most of this year’s big films were holdovers from Oscar season, but what if this is more telling of a larger trend regarding teenage unemployment. This summer may be a box office slump, which once again might create one of those thoughts in your brain like well who cares if a producer doesn’t get tons of money off of a giant film. You think this because you’re not thinking of the millions of people employed by the film industry; cameramen, sound crews, electricians, construction workers, teamsters, drivers, caterers, and the army of assistants that provide the manpower necessary to make films. A poor season this year affects jobs for next year. Then let’s connect the dots of a group of teenagers who used to go out to watch movies and then possibly go to a local chain restaurant for some junk food. If they’re not going to the movie theater, they’re not going to be lured to the Shenaniganz in the same complex as the movie theater or the mall that the theater is attached to. Basically, if teenagers don’t have money to blow, they don’t have it to blow at places where people are working. This winds deeper through other industries, but maybe it can all merely be saved by young professionals who are making good money but not planning on having kids or buying a house soon. Certainly these adults want to go watch movies, and eat out at restaurants, so perhaps our industries are safe.

But what about the teenagers themselves? What’s the result of them never getting a job in high school?

That high school job you had at a fast food franchise might have been hell when you worked it, but it taught you important things about the world. It was probably one of your first major non-family, non-school related responsibilities. As well as one of the first times when you were regularly interacting with people you didn’t go to school with as an equal. You were expected to act like a member of society who could handle things on their own; a conflict with a customer should be something you know how to resolve quickly and easily or at least it was something you would learn to resolve. There’s a whole dynamic of social skills that one learns at a workplace that you won’t learn in school or at home.

It’s also a time when one starts to learn basic common sense regarding how businesses and industries work at the basic level. As one person I spoke to with recently stated, “There’s two kinds of people in this world: those that worked retail and idiots.” I would expand retail to include any industry where you’re regularly interfacing with irate customers. When you’re on the receiving end of crazy complaints from people, you learn a lot about not only how to deal with the insane people that will drift into your life but also about how to comport yourself in public, and how to properly treat cashiers or waiters. Working such jobs teaches you how to be self-reliant in our consumerist culture, and how to make decisions when buying things yourself.

Bringing us rapidly to the important point that earning money for oneself brings: the value of a dollar. This is an old adage that we dismiss in our post-modern society as something silly and pointless. However, this is because most of us do have jobs or have worked jobs in our lives. It sounds silly to teach someone the value of a dollar when everyone you interact with on a regular basis knows this already. Interact with older children or young teens for a short period of time and you’ll begin to realize that perhaps they don’t understand it or go to the nice area of your city and hunt down someone who looks like they have a trust fund then have a conversation with them. They don’t understand it because they haven’t worked, but once they start working you see a change go on in their minds, and they might even be aware of this change. It’s an integral, and very rewarding, part of growing up when a person begins to take responsibility for themselves and their expenditures.

Now think for a moment about the fact that unemployment is high amongst teenagers. It will only raise higher as college students continue to graduate into an environment where they can’t obtain jobs in their chosen professions. They are then forced to return home, live with their parents, and probably work their old high school jobs where they have applicable experience. What becomes of the teenage population then? They start to lose out on valuable and integral parts of growing up in modern America. We will begin raising people that are locked into our consumerist culture without being taught the value of money. Worse, if they go on to college and the economy starts to right itself they will as younger people with the same degree be able to out-compete their older counterparts that have been working the teenager job they could never get. This means their first job might be one in a professional environment where they will be expected to already know how to handle themselves in a workplace scenario. Surely some of them will adjust fine having already attended a place of higher education where many social issues are worked out, but some of them will inevitably make the missteps that they should have made in the Mooby’s break room five or six years earlier than in the cubicle bullpen of Initech.

Perhaps I am just ranting about the worst case scenario from a dangerous slippery slope but what if I’m just the first one seeing the end result of the butterfly’s wing flap that is currently teenager unemployment?


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