An Associated Press article in a couple of newspapers I read Sunday reported kids don’t work summer jobs like they used to.
I’m not surprised, considering a lot of things aren’t like they used to be when I was young and when my two children were kids.
Admittedly, I’m old and probably a little old-fashioned, but in my opinion the diminishing number of high school and college-age young people who don’t get summer jobs isn’t necessarily a good thing.
There's a lot to be said about someone, at an early age, learning to hold down a regular job, show up to work on time, adhere to company policy and deposit or cash a pay check.
I grew up working chores on a family farm through high school and worked as a laborer for a company during summers while I was in college.
Both my daughter and son held part-time or full-time summer jobs when they were in high school and college.
A hot, tough job on an assembly line in a box factory for two or three months between his high school graduation and freshman year in college reinforced my son’s determination to earn a professional degree. Now he’s a tax attorney with a major corporation.
But to be fair to today’s generation, it isn’t as easy for young people to get those jobs now as it was a few decades ago.
The AP article — which reported that the percentage of employed Americans 16 to 19 dropped from 57 percent in July 1986 to 36 percent last July — noted several reasons for the decline, including:
Longer school terms, more kids taking summer courses, older, often foreign born, workers taking jobs once held by teenagers.
Predictions are the trend toward fewer short-term summer workers will continue as minimum wages increase and mechanization and technology eliminates more part-time, low-skilled jobs for not only kids but for adults as well.
So, taking summer courses and doing volunteer work to enhance one’s college resume may be the best route for many young people.
I’m proud of my grandson, Charles Marcus Whitten, now a college senior majoring in computer science, who interned last summer in Iowa and this summer is working as an intern in Boston for an international company that does data and analysis, including augmented reality, for energy companies.
His mother, Kathy, says he’s the only American intern on his team, the others being from India.
It’s not that they are paying the foreign workers less. There just aren’t enough American kids with the knowledge and skill or the desire to tackle some of these jobs for which there is a great demand.
There are good jobs out there for bright kids who are qualified to handle them, but not as many like the ones I had when I was my grandson’s age.
I think he earns as much in an hour as I did in two and a half days of hard labor harvesting stumps in South Alabama in 1954. Accounting for inflation, maybe I earned in a day what he gets an hour.
Aside from trimming down my weight, getting a good sun tan which probably is causing me skin problems now and really looking forward to weekends that summer, I learned some things.
One was to appreciate what I had, including the fact that I was going to get to go back to college and eventually get an easier, more rewarding job. It deepened my respect and empathy for those who work at tough, back-breaking jobs.
I’ve written this before, but it’s a good story, and I’ll repeat it.
The guys I worked with that summer were all older than me, some of them having come of age during the Great Depression of the 1930s.
One day, at lunch break, they got to talking about the hardest work they had ever done — something I had an idea I had done that morning.
One guy said that when he was a boy his family’s mule died. A vegetable garden for them, like many others in those days, was not a hobby but a necessity. There were no food stamps.
So, his mother got behind a plow and had him and his brother pull it while she broke up the ground for a garden.
After telling the story, he paused a minute and mused: “If I ever go to hell, I want to go there pulling a plow so I’ll be glad when I get there.”
Charlie Dunagin is editor and publisher emeritus of the McComb Enterprise-Journal.