The first job I ever had was mowing lawns, when I was barely big enough to push a mower. My first client was a semi-famous artist who lived in the big brick house down the street. He was old as dirt, grouchy, paid $2 that barely covered the gas; a demanding old fart who would send me back out on a blazing hot afternoon if a single leaf was left on the vast lawn or a single blade of grass was out of place.
I was in fifth grade, I think, when I told my grandmother that it wasn’t worth it. It was too much work for the money, I didn’t like it. I wanted to quit. This woman was born in the Great Depression. Oh, was I complaining to the wrong woman.
“Did you agree to do the job?”
“Do you know that any job worth doing is worth doing right?”
“You’re angry at this man, but do you remember that when everyone else thought you were too small, he’s the one who hired you? And that you only have other jobs now because he told people you did a good job.”
“Do you want a glass of lemonade?”
Yes, but... I have a lawn to mow. (And a tall glass of pride to swallow.)
Years after I’d moved on from mowing lawns, I still did that man’s grass. I think he was still paying $2 when I started college. But it was never money that I got out of it. From him I learned that hard work doesn’t hurt anybody. I learned to show up and do every job the best that I could. In my life I’ve never been wealthy, but I’ve never been unemployed, and never needed to take a handout (though we should help those who truly do need help). Someone who knows how to work will always get by.
There’s been many jobs - a paper route in junior high, sweeping floors in a store, roofing in the blazing sun during high school summers, lifeguarding, coaching kids, selling sporting goods, building bikes, photography, consulting, and doing whatever it took to put out a newspaper. Not a particular speck of talent for any of it, but if you show up, and try to pick up the last leaf and cut the last blade, you do okay.
It is with some concern that I read of the plummeting rates of teenage employment.
The summer job has always been a rite of passage. In 1990, a good 70 percent of young people age 16-21 had them. As of last year, it was down to near 40 percent. There are a bunch of theories why:
• Elderly people who can’t get by on Social Security, or immigrants willing to work low wage jobs, are crowding kids out of the entry-level workforce.
• Parents are pushing kids to be involved in so many sports, extra curriculars, programs and activities that they don’t have time for jobs.
• Minimum wage at $7.25 is so low, and cost for college so daunting - $50 grand a year for some private schools - why bother working?
I’ve heard all these excuses and then some, and they may all have a little truth to them, but frankly, it seems to me that if kids aren’t working, it’s probably because they don’t want to.
And as parents, we try so hard to provide that we don’t expect them to. We want them to have it easier than we did. We buy them the lastest phone, computer, gaming system, pay for all their wants, and feel like failures if our kids have to lift a finger.
We shouldn’t. There is as much to be learned from working hard as there is in any classroom. Kids who work learn how to communicate with people, handle stressful situations, and accept responsibility. A recent study in Chicago provided teenagers with part-time jobs and a mentor to report to over a summer. Crime was up to 42 percent lower for the teens with jobs than for those in the same age group that didn’t work.
A kid who has to work to help out their family perhaps shouldn’t feel so put upon. Maybe they should feel advantaged - because they will be when it is time for a career and they have a resume and references to show that they know how to work. I look at stacks of resumes of young college grads. If they’ve never held a job, no matter how impressive their grades or pedigree, guess where they go?
The summer job is on the way to being a relic of the past, and I think that’s a shame.
For all you pre-millenials who detassled corn or walked beans, lifeguarded the pool or the lake, painted houses, sacked groceries, shoveled cow crap, flipped burgers, caddied golf clubs or whatever, tell me, did it hurt you?
I have respect for people who work long and hard and sweat for a living, probably more so than those with fancy titles, palatial offices and large staffs. An honest day’s work is something to be proud of.
As for me, if everything goes South tomorrow, I’ll be alright. I could still mow me one hell of a yard.