Summertime blues: where did all the teen jobs go?

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Once upon a time, teenagers earned paychecks during the summer. They were exposed to a variety of jobs and people, learned valuable lessons about the social mores and work ethic of the toiling class, and came by some hard cash.

No longer. Only about 37 percent of teens will be lucky enough to land a summer job this year the lowest this figure has been in the 57 years that such data has been gathered.

“They’re competing with elderly people to work at McDonald’s,” explains one career counselor. That’s just part of the reason though it speaks volumes about conditions that force seniors to work for the likes of McDonald’s and Wal-Mart!

There are also many new immigrants who desperately need jobs, and laid-off workers pressed into other jobs that pay far less than they used to make. The vaunted “economic recovery” has not recovered that many jobs. And inexperienced young people are at the bottom of a ladder with rungs already filled with job seekers willing to work for minimum wage or less.

A key factor of teen job shortages is that federally funded summer job programs are gone. “In San Francisco in the 1970s,” reports a policy analyst with the city’s Department of Children, Youth and Their Families, “we had over 10,000 summer job opportunities for young people paid by the federal government, and now we have none.” State and city funds for summer opportunities have largely dried up as well.

“Last summer,” reports the Wall Street Journal, “about 3 million teens couldn’t find a job, gave up looking or worked fewer hours than they wanted.” This year it will be worse.

Those hit particularly hard are urban youth from poor families who don’t have the job contacts that suburban kids do. This may be good news for today’s military recruiters, who will happily sign them up. But it’s bad news for society.

What’s needed is a massive infusion of federal money for funding summer job programs and training. If the Bush administration reversed its lucrative tax cuts for the rich, stopped building prisons that eventually house the jobless, and curtailed the creation of new spy bureaucracies like Homeland Security, there would be plenty of money available.

In the meantime, embarrass the government. Hire a teenager to mow the lawn and weed this summer!

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