July 21, 2016

The Privilege of a Summer Job

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Summer jobs used to be a rite of passage for teenagers. Economic and social changes make this experience less common today, especially for teens in low-income families, who might need the money most.

My first job was babysitting, as was the case for many girls in the past. Shocking as it may seem today, I was eleven years old the first time I got paid to watch children. Today I suspect that an eleven-year-old would have a babysitter, not be one. It wasn’t just me who babysat; in the sixth grade we could take an American Red Cross child care class after school and be “certified” to babysit. Even today, the class is recommended for kids ages eleven and up, but I doubt many people would hire a pre-teen to babysit. When I was younger, one of my regular babysitters was a friend’s thirteen-year-old big sister. That was normal then, as children tended to be granted more independence and responsibility earlier.

In my teens, many of my peers took a summer or after school job at a fast food restaurant or a store in the mall once t were old enough, but that is not as common for young people today. According to statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, teens today are about half as likely to be employed compared to 25 years ago.

As you can see on the graph below, the proportion of sixteen- to nineteen-years-olds who are employed has fallen dramatically since my teen years in the late 1980s. What happened?


Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

  1. Labor market changes

Many of the low-wage jobs high schools students used to take over the summer and after school are now filled by older workers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 8 in 10 people earning minimum wage or less are 20 or older; more than half are 25 or older.

As our economy has shifted from being manufacturing-based to service-based, older workers with limited levels of education who might have worked in manufacturing (and earned more money) a generation ago are now likely to have few options outside of the service industry, occupying jobs teens once held.

The notion that working in a retail store is just for teens who want to earn extra spending money no longer accurately characterizes low wage work. A recent visit to the Gap—a store that many of my peers worked at over the summer folding shirts against clipboards—illustrated this trend. Two of the women working at the counter appeared to be in their 50s or 60s, and the man working on the floor seemed to be in his early to mid-twenties. No teens were at work during my last few visits on summer days. By contrast, during the summers of the late 1980s it would be common to see high school and college students in stores like this, maybe with a manager in their late twenties or early thirties.

  1. Economic changes

Fewer families are now middle income than in the past, according to the Pew Research Center. According to a 2015 report, in 1981, 59 percent of adults were considered middle income, with 28 percent living below this level and 15 percent above. By contrast, in 2015, 50 percent were middle income, 29 percent below and 21 percent above. So more young people are growing up in higher income families and fewer are in middle income families.

What does this mean for teens and summer jobs? Families with upper middle or high earnings can afford to send their kids to summer programs, travel, and may provide allowances that make getting a job less necessary. And because there simply are more teens now than there were 30 years ago (16.8 million 16-19-year-olds in 2010 versus 14.6 million in 1985) college admissions pressure is more intense and summers and after school hours might be used to participate in unpaid internships, volunteer work, or other things that enhance one’s resume.

  1. Inequality on the summer job market

And yet, paradoxically, teens from higher income households are more likely to be employed. According to the blog FiveThirtyEight:

Teens from less privileged backgrounds face numerous barriers to finding jobs. They are less likely to own a car (or have access to one), and often live in areas where jobs are scarce. Their parents are less likely to be able to help them get a foot in the door at a local business. They may attend schools that are, or are perceived as, inferior, making them less attractive to prospective employers.

In an attempt to appeal to affluent shoppers, retailers might prefer to hire workers who themselves appear affluent. This probably helped my friends and I get jobs when we applied for positions in our local mall.

Similarly, the retailer Abercrombie & Fitch has been faced a number of lawsuits over discriminatory hiring practices. They have been accused of refusing to hire people of color for sales positions and in 2005 agreed to a settlement, which included monetary damages as well as revising their hiring policies.

Some retailers require that their employees purchase their clothing at only a modest discount to wear to work, which is cost prohibitive for many prospective employees. Sociologist Yasemin Besen-Cassino conducted a study of young, affluent retail workers and found that for many of those she interviewed, the prestige of the brand rather than income was the main appeal. Her Contexts article, “Cool Stores, Bad Jobs,” describes how workers sometimes end up making very little money (and maybe even owe the employer money) because they need to keep buying the branded clothing for work. The social aspect of the job becomes part of the appeal as well, as narrow hiring practices form de facto cliques.

Summer or after school employment can teach some basic labor market skills, albeit typically entry-level skills. Low wage jobs helped me save for college and pay for some of my expenses as a student, and it served as a reminder of why higher education was so important for my future.

What are some of the other disadvantages people experience who are unable to find summer or after school jobs?


I thought this blog on the privilege of having a summer job was quite accurate. After reading this blog, I applied it to the real world and began to realize how many older people work minimum wage jobs. I agree with Sternheimer because after reading this blog, I walked into Vons to buy some groceries and paused for a second to look around the store. I thought about what Sternhehimer’s blog said and realized it was true. Mostly every employee in Vons seemed to be over the age of 20. It is becoming more common now of days for older people to work minimum wage jobs because of the competition in education and inflation in the American economy. People without an education need to survive somehow, so they strive to find one or multiple minimum wage job that come with health benefits to survive in the game of life.
I personally have been working a minimum wage job for 3 years. I started as a dishwasher making minimum wage and worked my way up to a bus boy. I now make minimum wage along with tips from the servers. This comes out to approximately 20$ an hour. After reading this I realized how privileged I was to be in the 20% of teens who work minimum wage jobs. I have been raised in a middle class family, and do not have to pay for any bills or rent. I pay for my personal expenses and save every last dollar I can for when I approach the game of life. The other bus boy, who lives in a low income family, has to help his parents pay for bills and rent. Along with his personal expenses. Most of my friends are upper middle class and do not work. This is because their parents pay for everything they need, so they believe they do not have to have a job. I am privileged to have a well paying job, an education and the ability to save all the money I can without feeling stressed about going broke.

As I have gone through this whole story "The privilege of summer job" By Karen Sternheimer I strongly believe that she is trying to relate the story to the sociological interest of the society. This story has been able to gain my concern because it is the current scenario that we are facing. As I am a student and summer job is a topic much more familiar to me than any other topics. This article has also been a concern to me as it is relevant to my social world.
Going through the article and analyzing it I find that this article has been able to accurately print the current situation and has been able to visualize the readers about the current social changes due to various reasons on summer jobs. Not only the analysis of summer jobs is being done but also the current scenario and the difference between the current scenario and the past have been described. As through this article, the reader is being aware of the economic shift like the change in the economic situation or the class of people and the numbers. It also covers the area of the labor market and describes the change in it throughout the past decade. Thus this article is also measuring the aspect of social mobility that was discussed in chapter 7.
Analyzing the article I did find the information provided to be praised of but also criticized for. Such as, it does not explain the exact economic change of the society or nation. In the textbook, it also discusses about the social hierarchy, and if we see the price range that determines the hierarchy, then summer job will fall into “working poor and middle class”; however, students do possess special skills and some level of qualification, so we cannot put them under that category. This dilemma has not been addressed by the author in her article. It has explained that due to the reduction in a number of middle-income families and increase of high-income families’ students are not willing to do summer jobs but it is clearly ignoring the fact that also the number of low-income families have been increased and it also depends on them. Also, the fact that some students even of high-income families do not depend towards their families economically is being ignored.

Ferris, Kerry, and Jill Stein. The Real World: An Introduction to Sociology. W.W. Norton & Co, 2010.

I chose this article because as a teenager currently looking for a job, this topic has a big effect on my personal life. I have been fortunate enough to come from a family that does not deal with a daily struggle with wealth, so I believe that this issue most likely has a greater effect on other teenagers than it does myself. Reading this article was a bit heartbreaking to me because, while I had always known it is harder to get a high paying job with out a high level of income, I had not realized how unfair it could be to those who maintain a lower socioeconomic status.
This problem is frightening to me and it upsets me to know that people from different statuses are being discriminated against. I think that Sternheimer made some really great points and presented a lot of facts from trusted sources that fully supported her claims. The statistics presented in this article and this issue within the job market make me understand why many people in the United States are currently fighting to raise to minimum-wage to a livable-wage. The fact that I have come from a family and background of privilege make it harder for me to understand the struggle that can sometimes come with searching for a job and making enough money to live off of. I am glad I chose this specific article, because I feel as though I have learned quite a bit about this important issue with Sternheimer’s help. Poverty is a big issue in the United States and this article helped me understand more in depth how exactly the social problems within the job market have grown throughout the last 25 years.

I really enjoyed analyzing this post, as I found it very relatable. I have worked every since I was fifteen and have always noticed the wide age ranges between my coworkers. I have always worked with other teenagers, but also other adults in their thirties and forties. My peers that I grew up with come from wealthy upper middle class families never worked, and were always super busy being star athletes and balancing school or SAT tutoring. I also like how you shined the light on cultural poverty and how much of a reverse issue in society it is. We say that poor people bring poverty amongst themselves, but it very difficult for them to try to move up in class. Even trying to a stable job as simple as working in a retail store is a huge challenge for the lower class.

Sternheimer’s article is particularly interesting because it has relevance to my life and the social world. She explains how a person’s wardrobe relates to society and how we view someone, along with the social class we instinctively place them into. This article reminded me of my childhood growing up when I would often get into arguments with my parents against what I could and could not wear to family occasions. I agree with Sternheimer’s stance about how people wear many different “costumes” for many different scenarios and situations. Sternhiemer believes social class is affected by this and so do I. I wear very different clothing working in a professional setting than I do when I’m around friends. You should be well groomed when in a business meeting or any other special occasion. I tend to wear more urban apparel such as rugged ripped jeans and solid color long tees when hanging and taking photos with friends which often break the barriers of mainstream fashion. I believe the clothing you choose to wear when with friends is a strong indicator of your personality. After a while my parents conditioned me to wear more formal clothing during family and business occasions such as a tucked in button down shirt with khakis. Not a sweatshirt, and/or long tee, tank top worn along with sweatpants, ripped jeans, or basketball shorts.
In our society the clothing you wear reflect your class ranking. The clothing I would wear to family and business occasions were expensive so I could be perceived as a higher member end of the social class. This costume represents my social role as a child of a high class family in the social world. The social institution you belong to is often represented by the costume you wear. Sternheimer makes some great points in this article and by taking in her view of this topic, I was able to gain a better understanding of how different “costumes” effect us from birth and how they reflect your ranking in the social world.
I’m curious to see what Sternheimer thinks about holiday costumes such as the style of dress for Halloween.

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