COMMENTARY | Reuters reports it will be tough for teens to find summer jobs in cities this summer, but there also is an opportunity shortage in small towns and rural areas.
During my adolescent period 40-plus years ago in midsized Saginaw, Mich., virtually every kid who wanted a summer or part-time job could get one (or several). At 12, I nabbed a newspaper route. Two years later, the local recreation office hired me and a bunch of others as umpires and scorekeepers for baseball and softball. Next, I got a cashier job at a family-owned pharmacy.
Nowadays the local newspaper no longer is daily and possibly is near death. The recreation department is shut down. The family pharmacy long ago gave way to a Salvation Army thrift store.
If I were an adolescent, I don't know where I could find a part-time job, and that makes me feel guilty. How can we blame young people for what we perceive as their bad attitudes and lack of work ethic when we fail to provide the same opportunities we embraced during past generations?
This is why I support government-sponsored summer youth employment programs. These initiatives don't have to be extravagant and expensive, and they won't solve the challenge of more jobs for older teens and young adults. But if a 14- to-17-year-old is given the chance to earn maybe a mere $1,000 during the summer school break, this could make a big difference in their lives beyond the dollars earned.
Businesses that contribute to worthy causes such as United Way and cultural arts in a similar spirit can create and "contribute" summer youth jobs. In tandem, the public sector could at least chip in with supportive or so-called "matching" funds.
Even in a tough economy, there are resources for public-private partnerships to support summer youth jobs. Critics might call this "make work." I'd rather call it "summer school."