Preparing for College

Regarding Summer Jobs

Attention high school seniors ... Summer looms. How will you spend your time during these hopefully not lazy, crazy days?

Are you currently looking for a summer job? Have you acquired one already? Maybe you're already working one. The world of summer jobs has changed dramatically over the decades, along with most other things, I suppose, although some types of work remain the same as it was when I was between high school and college years. (WARNING: Here comes another one of those sleep-inducing "Dave recalls his Wonder Years" narratives. Do not read while driving or operating heavy equipment!)

Back in the day, I worked a number of highly unglamorous (by today's standards) summer jobs. Let's see ...

Well, I was a busboy at our local Holiday Inn. That was my first paying job. What did it teach me? Probably the most important lesson I learned was not to look too closely at how your food is prepared in a restaurant's kitchen.

Another summer, I strapped 40-pound boxes of small laundry detergent samples called "Cold Power" around my neck (check with your grandmother about that product; she'll remember) and spent weeks walking door to door throughout endless neighborhoods hanging them on door knobs. What did those toils teach me? ...  Possibly that that's where the current kink in my neck came from.

Then came tennis court maintenance. I worked that summer taking care of some beautiful clay courts at a country club. They required a lot of preparation for play, morning and evening. I had to drag them, roll them with a heavy roller, sweep the taped lines, then water them carefully, not too much, not too little, and finally reinstall the nets. What did I learn there? ... How to parlay my tennis knowledge into meeting and dating some lovely ladies who would saunter over to the courts from the club pool. Talk about perks.


Enough about my summer jobs. Thankfully.

My inspiration for this post comes from a Wall Street Journal article: In Praise of the Teen Summer Job, by Dave Shiflett, who notes, "From hauling bricks to delivering newspapers, traditional summer work taught generations of teens about life, labor and their place in the universe." That's also my recollection of summer jobs. Dave does contrast back-then to nowadays:

Among the signs of my advancing age is bafflement at hearing younger parents talk about what their teenagers are going to do over the summer. Some mention internships with documentary filmmakers. Others say that their offspring will spend the hot months building latrines in distant corners of the developing world. A few speak of expeditions to measure the disappearance of glaciers or a period of reflection at an ashram in Tamil Nadu.

What on Earth is an ashram? And when did teenagers start doing all these exotic things instead of working summer jobs?

I wish them well, of course, and hope that they build the finest latrines ever to grace the Guatemalan countryside. I should also acknowledge that I wish such opportunities had been available to me when I was growing up ...

Dave then goes on to wax nostalgic about his own (and others') summer jobs:

... So let’s leave behind, momentarily, the allure of ashrams, glaciers and humanitarian latrine work and travel back to the early 1970s. The British band Mungo Jerry had a hit with “In the Summertime,” which sang the praises of fishing, swimming and dining with the girl of your dreams: “If her daddy’s rich, take her out for a meal / If her daddy’s poor, just do what you feel.” My girlfriend was a doctor’s daughter, so I needed to make as much money as possible. Which led me to a gray cinder-block opportunity zone called Pitzer Transfer and Storage ...

Which leads to an exciting adventure in agriculture, where:

... [a] teaching moment occurred the summer before my senior year, on my second day of a brand-new farm job. The boss, who seemed to believe that city-raised teenagers instinctively knew how to handle farm equipment, sent us up to a plateau to discard some rain-ruined hay. On the way back down the hill, we lost control of the tractor. In the resulting crash (which I have no recollection of), both lungs were punctured by my ribs and began taking on blood. One filled completely. The other was edging that way when I arrived at the hospital. Some of the emergency-room team thought I was a goner.

But one doctor (my girlfriend’s father) saw a dim spark of life and helped revive me, which (after I regained consciousness) taught me once again the value of perseverance ...

Of course, all of (that) Dave's learning experiences, like mine, were the result of actually having a job, which reminds me of an old Saturday Night Live Steve Martin bit where he assumes the voice of one of those high-pressure, late-night TV hustlers and excitedly proclaims:

You ... can be a millionaire ... and never pay taxes! You can be a millionaire ... and never pay taxes! You say ... "Steve ... how can I be a millionaire ... and never pay taxes?" [Quietly, as if incidentally] First ... get a million dollars. [Resumes excited tone] Now ... you say, "Steve ... what do I say to the tax man when he comes to my door and says, 'You ... have never paid taxes'?" Two simple words. Two simple words in the English language: "I forgot!"...

Thus, youtoo, can have these great learning experiences with a summer job! How? First, get a summer job. Which might be harder than you think. Back to the other Dave:

... Sadly, one of the biggest challenges facing today’s teenage worker is finding a job at all. A recent report by J.P. Morgan Chase says that only 46% of young people who applied for summer-employment programs were enrolled in 2014. “In the 14 major U.S. cities surveyed,” a release about the report added, “local officials also project that tens of thousands of economically disadvantaged youths looking for jobs will not be able to find them during the upcoming summer months.”

The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the labor-force participation rate—that is, the proportion of a given population that is working or looking for work—for all youth last July was “17.0 percentage points below the peak rate for that month in 1989.” And the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis says that young workers “between 16 and 24 years of age constitute the demographic group that has experienced one of the most substantial declines in labor force participation” ...

Dave then goes on to gather some summer job memories from a few famous celebrity contacts in his orbit:

Rocker Gene Simmons notes "I have done everything from delivering newspapers, scrubbing the fat off of a butcher’s block in a meat store, and being a secretary for hire,” he reported via email. Those were pre-Internet days, he added, when you had “roll up your sleeves and do it all yourself. You had to go to the newsstand. You had to buy your own newspaper. You had to look in the want ads columns. You had to pick up the phone and make your own appointment.” 

Jorma Kaukonen, who grew up to play guitar for Jefferson Airplane (and now Hot Tuna), also delivered papers and learned to type his grandfather’s translations of Russian technical documents for the U.S. Department of Commerce, a skill he says still serves him well ... Like most other parents, he passed these values on to his children, including his son, who worked a food-prep job in a restaurant in the fancy Washington, D.C., neighborhood of Georgetown. “He called me when he got his first paycheck,” Mr. Kaukonen recalls. His son said, “I can’t believe how much they took out for taxes and Social Security”—to which Mr. Kaukonen recalls responding, “Welcome to my world!” ...

... His advice to young workers: Live and toil “with integrity,” and adopt a no-slacking attitude. “Luck and timing can make a big difference,” he said. “But Lord knows, prepare. If you prepare properly, you’re ready for luck and timing if they come your way.”

There's a great collection of comments following Shiflett's article. Check out those, too.

This is an informative read for any of you students out there who are interested in putting all the upcoming weeks of non-school time to better use than following Facebook, Twitter, et al or keeping up with the Kardashians. If so, I'll also welcome you to my world!


Be sure to check out all my admissions-related articles at College Confidential.