The Value of a Summer Job


My colleague, Lisa, and I were comparing notes the other day. Both of us starting working in our teens (14 and 15 respectively) during the academic year as well as the summers. I worked at Sears in the drapery and bedspread department. I’ll never forget my first boss—Mr. Arnold. He did not suffer fools either in terms of his employees or the customers. I showed up on time (meaning 10 minutes early) and put in a full day’s work (meaning if I didn’t have anything to do, I needed to find something to do…and I better not wait for Mr. Arnold to tell me what that was). I learned what it meant to be reliable, how to be observant and take initiative, and what excellent customer service entailed. To top it off, all my workmates were at least 10 – 20 years older than me. Lessons for a lifetime!

According to Jeffrey Selingo, author of There is Life after College, the number of teens who have some sort of job while in school has dropped from nearly 40% in 1991 to less than 20% today.[i] My 97 year old father says kids are getting lazier. Not true says Derek Thompson. Just 7% are NEETs—young people who are “Neither in Education, Employment, or Training”.[ii]

American teens are occupied in some form or fashion. Mostly in educational pursuits. But there are additional reasons, according to Thompson, why less teens are working.

  • Most employers would rather hire more mature employees for the same wage, and there are mature workers who are applying for those entry-level jobs.
  • Federally funded summer jobs (where teens work for the local government) have declined.
  • In recent years, companies have started hiring teens as “unpaid interns” which don’t show up in the stats.
  • For teens, having a job has lost the cultural cachet it once had. The norm has shifted to summer classes and unpaid internships.

So, is it worth the effort to find one of those sought-after summer jobs? And if the summer job extends into the school year, will it take away from your student’s academic progress?  Selingo’s answer:

Typically, anything under 20 hours a week is safe bet that academics won’t suffer. Indeed, research has shown that students who are employed while in high school or college allocate their time more efficiently and are motivated to study harder in their classes so they can achieve a certain career goal.[iii]

Julie Lythcott-Haims, author of How to Raise an Adult, agrees. In her eight-item “A Different Kind of Checklist” based on her observations as Dean of Freshman Students at Stanford, number seven reads:

An eighteen-year-old must be able to earn and manage money. The crutch [that hinders them from standing up on their own two feet]: They don’t hold part-time jobs; they receive money from us for whatever they want or need; thus, kids don’t develop a sense of responsibility for completing job tasks, accountability to a boss who doesn’t inherently love them, or an appreciation for the cost of things and how to manage money.[iv]

Convinced? Here are some ideas to get you started:

[i] “A lazy summer for teenagers: Why Aren’t More of Them Working?” (The Washington Post, 6.9.2017)

[ii] “Teenagers Have Stopped Getting Summer Jobs—Why?” (The Atlantic, 6.9.2017)

[iii] “A lazy summer for teenagers: Why Aren’t More of Them Working?” (The Washington Post, 6.9.2017)

[iv] How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Over-parenting Trap and Prepare your Kid for Success, p. 82.


About Author

Page Cvelich

College/Teen Program Manager

Page Cvelich has brought a wealth of knowledge to the Work/Life Center from prior experience as a high school guidance counselor and parent education coordinator. Page has been responsible for setting up a high school college and career center, designing a career exploration program for teens and serving as a counselor at a backpacking camp in the Rockies. In her role as Teen/College Program Manager, Page enjoys interacting with small groups of parents and teens, as well as consulting one-on-one with parents and referring them to resources so that they are better able to provide the support and encouragement their kids need.

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