The recent headline in the Daily Journal read, “Where did all the teenagers go?”
Well, they are at home. The story, produced by the New York Times, pointed out a trend that has been happening for years — teens no longer are working. The evening job at the fast-food joint largely is no more.
Only 34 percent of today’s teens are working. It’s a staggering drop from 1979, when 60 percent worked. Figures compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics from 2016 show only 43 percent of teens eligible to work got a summer job. As late as 1995, two-thirds of America’s youth worked during their summer break.
There are multiple reasons. The cost of college has ballooned so much the idea of working one’s way through seems impractical. The last recession drove several adults into retail jobs once held by the young. Finally, some jobs have disappeared. The Kankakee Valley Park District pool, for example, is closed. No lifeguards there.
The story further pointed out the shortage of working teens is driving up wages. Employers are paying more. The Illinois minimum wage, for example, is $8.25, but it is common to see advertisements for $9 or more per hour.
The Illinois minimum wage already is a dollar higher than almost all the surrounding states. Wisconsin, Kentucky, Iowa and Indiana are at $7.25. Missouri is at $7.85 and similar to 13 other states, now will link future wages to increases in the cost of living.
Criticism of fast-food jobs is common. We take the view all work has dignity and, yes, conditions have improved. There is a satisfaction in having an earned dollar in one’s pocket. All jobs teach, if you keep your mind open to learn.