The Kid Economy

Some time between my childhood and now, the kid economy disappeared.  When I was young, I had a paper route and I shoveled driveways.  When I was in high school, I scooped ice cream and when I was in college, I washed dishes and cooked.  I had friends that were lifeguards, camp counselors, mowed lawns, etc.  Now, most of these jobs are done by adults.  Sure, there are still some kids who work summer jobs in restaurants, but not as many.  It’s even illegal in some towns to go door to door to see if someone wants their driveway shoveled or their lawn mowed.  I think this is a real problem.

I don’t know why this change occurred.  I can only speculate.  But, I would guess it’s a variety of factors.  School has changed. Now they are giving more homework and starting homework younger than ever before.  This is a problem in and of itself, but when kids are in school six hours a day and then have hours of homework on top of that, it is more than a full time job.  They just don’t have time to work.  The economy isn’t great.  If an adult has been out of work long enough, newspaper delivery starts to seem more appealing.  If adults take the traditional kid jobs, the kids are out of luck.  I’ll bet it’s cheaper for the companies, too.  An adult with a car can cover a lot more territory than a kid on a bike.  They may pay the adult more, but not that much more.  If she covers ten times more area, it is considerably cheaper.  I wouldn’t be surprised if lawyers and over-sensitive parents have something to do with it, too.

So, why is it a problem?  The companies are more profitable and it helps with adult unemployment.   The problem with the companies being more profitable is twofold.  On the one hand, they aren’t.  Many newspapers are struggling or closing.  Saving a few cents on labor isn’t going to fix their problems.  And the companies that are profitable, like News Corp and Tribune media, are just throwing a few extra bucks on the pile.  There may be some gross good in the extra profit, but no net good.  And as for helping with adult unemployment, that may be true, but it is contributing to adult underemployment.

Of course, the adults aren’t why I think it is a problem.  It is a problem for kids and for the future.  It may sound like a cliche, but work teaches kids a lot.  And the things they learn are different than the things they learn in school or at home.  School never teaches us how to talk to a manager or a customer.  Your parents can’t teach you about money like a job can.  Whatever threats your parents make, they aren’t going to fire you or let you starve.  Back when I was a hiring manager, it was always obvious whether someone was looking for their first job or had worked before.  And the people who got hired even though it was their first job were almost always worse employees.

Now, I’m not saying I want to bring back the good old days or reinstate child labor.  I certainly don’t want kids working in textile mills or on construction sites.  But I do want to see kids mowing lawns and shoveling driveways.  I want to see kids delivering papers and working for parks and rec.  It’s an inexpensive way to get better kids.  And that would be better for all of us.

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