I do an exercise in my persuasive writing classes at Drexel University where the students have to write about the worst job they ever had. I’ve been doing this exercise for at least 10 years; it works as a way to show them how much specific details matter. I get volunteers to read their pieces aloud and then we discuss them. Here’s the problem: More and more frequently, hands go up when I first give the assignment, and students say, “What should I do if I never had a job?”
In Time magazine a few weeks ago, Erika Christakis’s piece “Too Busy for a Summer Job? Why America’s Youth Lacks Basic Work Skills” cited this statistic: Less than half of the country’s 16- to 24-year-olds had part-time jobs.
My first part-time job was serving at Shriners’ banquets at Pittsburgh’s Syria Mosque on Saturdays, when I was 15. The Shriners, all of whom were white-haired and very old to my 15-year-old eyes, would come in lit up enough from the pre-banquet cocktails that they would not realize how long they stared at our 15-year-old bodies in tight polyester uniforms, or how limp their salads had become from sitting out on the tables. Once, I accidentally spilled a cup of hot coffee down a man’s back, and he didn’t even flinch.
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My oldest daughter got a job as soon as she turned 16 and has the same job five years later, as an activities coordinator at Collingswood Manor, a senior citizens’ home. She knew she had to get a job, but said she didn’t want to scoop ice cream; she wanted her time spent at work to have actual value. In five years, she has bonded with, and lost, so many residents there, but she does seem to truly enjoy buying them puzzles out of her own money, thinking up seasonal crafts and activities, etc. She commutes back home from college two weekends a month to keep that job.