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Summer School, Not Summer Jobs

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More teens are spending summer days in school rather than on the job, USA Today reports. According to U.S. Labor Department statistics released July 6, only 48.8% of teens ages 16 to 19 were working or looking for work in June. That was down from 51.6% in June 2006 and below the 60.2% in the labor force in June 2000, reporter Barbara Hagenbaugh writes. The reasons for the downturn are varied, including more adult competition for jobs that once went to teens and more families saving for college—which means students don't have to earn as much cash to pay college tuition. In addition, one expert tells the newspaper that teens see the benefits of extra learning. "The value of school is higher than it used to be," said Daniel Sullivan, senior economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.

The Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University has been tracking the decline in youth employment for several years. The center's April 2007 study found that teens living in low-income families—family income of less than $20,000 a year—were the least likely to have summer jobs—only 32 percent were working. By contrast, those in families with incomes between $75,000 and $100,000 were the most likely to hold jobs. Approximately 52 percent of those teens did have jobs.

But in her Working Parents blog on the BusinessWeek Web site, Cathy Arnst writes about the downside of foregoing summer work. The "most valuable" lesson of her first summer job working as a waitress at a small-town diner: "how to be a responsible employee, a skill that I think can only be gained on the job," Arnst writes.

"Without that first job, and all the other waitress jobs I held afterwards, I never would have been able to afford college, my ticket to a job in journalism—a career I really do value more than waiting tables," she concludes.

So, what do you think? Do teens need more time in the classroom, or do the benefits of a summer job exceed the paycheck?

3 Comments

Regarding teens and summer jobs, it's my personal opinion that teens who benefit most from working during the summer are those that do not see the value of a good education. It's been my experience that students who don't see the value of a good education, don't benefit much from attending summer school. These type of students might benefit more from working a summer job because then they might learn how much and how hard a person has to work to earn a dollar. This might be the incentive they need to look at education from a new perspective, to appreciate the education they have received, and to encourage them to seek more learning.

As a principal in a district with 68% economically disadvantaged students, I feel that the sooner they learn the lesson of "how to be responsible and dependable" enough to hold on to a job, the better citizens and students they will become. Along with this, they may gain an appreciation for a higher level of education, which can lead them to become more motivated to achieve beyond a high school education. It does not have to be in the classroom setting to be considered 'education'. This is education about life!

I’m not sure I agree with Maria's comment that disengaged students benefit more from a summer job than those who find value in their education. All students gain communication and life skills and learn money management in the workplace. In a perfect world, anyway, work ethic in school and employment would have a direct connection – provided educators are engaging students. Both summer school and summer jobs have their perks for teens. It’d be nice if those summer jobs could be connected to students’ interests and courses of study, internship-style.

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