Philadelphia Inquirer columnist and Commonwealth Foundation Executive Vice President Jennifer Stefano, in her recent column, laments the decline of teenage employment and the life lessons that teenagers miss when they don’t work.
Stefano describes how working in her father’s store during her youth provided lessons that couldn’t be taught in a college business class: “Working at Hand’s as a kid taught me that college was not nearly as valuable as lived experience — and offered so much more than the data can pick up. I was especially enriched by the older men and women who worked at the store year-round.”
According to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, the labor force participation rate for 16- to 19-year-olds was roughly 37% in August 2023. This wasn’t always the case. Forty-five years ago, more than 59% of 16- to 19-year-olds were working. …
The debate can rage about why teens aren’t working, but the more important conversation is this: What is lost from not having a job during your teenage years? …
According to a study performed by Drexel University labor economist Paul Harrington, work experience in a formal job during high school corresponds to having a higher salary as a working adult.
Working at Hand’s as a kid taught me that college was not nearly as valuable as lived experience — and offered so much more than the data can pick up. I was especially enriched by the older men and women who worked at the store year-round.
Ruthie … kindly taught me the rules around shift work — and that staying too long at lunch or showing up late to a shift impacted other people’s lives.
… Mr. Tamaro, taught me to quickly deduct percentages in my head during our summer sales and how to make change without the help of a machine when someone gave me $22.04 for an $11.89 charge.
Sherry … taught me to handle mean customers with grace… I learned more from her about costs of goods, inventory, and merchandising than from any college professor whose class I took getting my business degree.
The positive impact these individuals made on my life and the lessons I learned have never been equally matched. When I was a teenage girl, my coworkers taught me not just how to work, but the value of work. Most importantly, they taught me to give profound respect and deference to working men and women.
You can read Stefano’s entire column here.
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