Part-Time Jobs or Exploitations of Labor?
I started working when I was 14 years old, and landed where most 14-year-olds do: the part-time job. My job was a series of highs and lows that were at best unpredictable, and at worst miserable. From handling customers who poop on the floor and spray Febreze in people’s eyes, to going into the produce cooler to keep warm in the wintertime, to coworkers who have committed anything from sexual harassment to stabbings, it is not hard not to consider quitting in the search of greener pastures. Still, no matter how far I searched, I couldn’t seem to find anything better.
In 2018, it was found that 50% of all youth aged 16-24 were employed in either full or part-time job situations. Out of this group, it was calculated that 20% of students enrolled in high school were also working part-time jobs. The current federal minimum wage sits at $7.25 per hour, with tipped wages falling as low as $2.13 per hour. According to the Department of Labor, teens 14-15 can only work 3 hours on school nights, and only 18 hours in a school week, making their jobs relatively low-commitment and manageable. However, once a teenager turns 16, these restrictions no longer apply, leaving them at the mercy of their employer and their state regulations.
So why hire teens? Why not try and seek out adults who would be more available and more equipped to work these jobs? The first thought that comes to mind would be that most teens don’t know any better. When I began my job, I considered myself lucky just to be there, and didn’t even stop to think about the way I was being treated. I never considered how strange it was that I couldn’t take breaks but a man 20 years my senior could take 8 because he needed a smoke. There’s no handbook that tells you the way jobs are supposed to be. Even as I got older, figured out I deserved better employment, and started seeking jobs, my window of opportunity for hiring was essentially closed, as I was college-bound and it wasn’t worth their time to train someone who would eventually leave.
Limited availability of jobs and lack of regulation on teen working hours means that it becomes easy for employers to take advantage of their younger employees, who also operate as full-time students, unlike many of their older counterparts. Along with the burden of school, many teens have the added stress of homework, extracurriculars and maintaining healthy social and physical habits. While the argument could be made that students could easily supplement their extracurricular and schoolwork time for their jobs, for many students interested in succeeding in high school and moving onto higher education, that isn’t much of an option anymore.
My average day in high school looked like this: the average seven hours of school, three hours of extracurriculars, three hours of schoolwork, two hours of exercise/family time, and, ideally, eight hours of sleep. That leaves only one hour of extra time, which was often consumed by schoolwork or other commitments. In order to fit in the time for a job, I often would need to sacrifice an important component, usually sleep, which can be damaging in many ways. For anyone, removing social time and chances to exercise can result in descent into unhealthy mental and physical habits, making it harder for them to contribute positively to their community and succeed at their goals. By eliminating extracurriculars and schoolwork, students are put at a disadvantage when applying to future endeavors, as they do not have the credentials that can help them stand out. Along with this, extracurriculars are often hobbies or passions for students, and have been linked to positive mental health.
So why has nothing been done about this problem? The teen part-time job has been a source of anxiety and stress for students for years, and it doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon. I have had adults share their experiences with me of their jobs growing up, boasting about how they had it way worse than I do. Why has that become a point of pride among people who have shared this experience? I think this is mainly due to the fact that many people don’t have positive experiences to link to their time working, and therefore have bad experiences as an only source of community. Mainly it boils down to who young people are when enduring these jobs. By using people who are impressionable and often don’t know when to stand up for themselves, these jobs not only set the precedent for what work should be like, but also cause severe mental and emotional strain.
For young teens, the world is often moving in a million different directions; between education and the development of learning habits to social growth, adding another significant stressor can damage them. While I cannot say that my experiences working part-time have been all bad, they have definitely left much to be desired. Part-time jobs offer opportunities for students to engage with others from similar and different backgrounds, learn a good work ethic, and interact with a range of people from their community. However they also include long hours, frustrating encounters, and have left me wondering when the situation will get better.
Sarah Borsari is a first year Cinema and Photography major who will not pick up that extra shift for you. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.