Sunday, July 29, 2001

Summer jobs aid transition to adulthood

By Kevin Hardy
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        My towels hang on a rack as trophies. They are the envy of the rest of the bathroom. When the light switch points up, a vanity mirror illuminates the room to spotlight the towels.

        The towels are the product of my fabled folding, an ability I mastered through countless and mindless hours of laundry loading at an athletic club one summer, when I was paid the $4.75 minimum wage to reach into an industrial-size bin and clean whatever I found — usually, that meant sauna-soggy towels.

        Three flips of the wrists, a hard rub across the back of the cotton and I was then affectionately known as “Towel boy,” or “You.”

        Three summers have passed, my towel-business days have folded and I've become a wet-behind-the-ears editorial writer who has made the names of “Intern” and, for some unknown reason, “Brian” for himself here at the Enquirer. I'm now able to prod at issues and uncover solutions to problems that affect you, the readers. It's all been part of my effort to join the U.S. workforce and to learn about how much sweat, Tide and ink goes into the American dollar. More importantly, these experiences have been through summer jobs, the topic of this column, which I write as part of my own summer job.

        According to the National Consumer League, a non-profit advocacy group representing consumers on workplace issues, more than 200,000 young adults are out here too. Cincinnati's new Summer Youth Employment Initiative accounts for 1,935 of them.

        Linda Bates Parker, director of University of Cincinnati's Career Development Center, who has counseled some of those hired through the initiative, says summer jobs are necessary in the teen-age transition to adulthood.

        “I know the hip-hop generation influences them to have a kind of in-your-face attitude and that sometimes doesn't translate to good customer service relations,” she says.

        “Teen-agers have a need to be more exposed to the work environment, to be with other teen-agers and to be interactive with their contemporaries.

        “These kind of exposures give them a background of good work ethics.”

        And that's what teen-agers earn from the moment they fill out their first W-2's — a three-figure paycheck to be cashed at the bank of adult acceptance.

        We can only hope that teen-age transaction will lead to a transfering of respect between adults and teen-agers.

        “As our culture changes, hopefully we'll have cultural exchanges so they'll rub off on us and we rub off them in a positive way,” Ms. Bates Parker says.

        Through three-month internships or summer jobs, she says, many younger workers see adults as “real people who care and can still get their work done.”

        And it seems like adults do rub off on the younger workers — not always positively, though.

        George Vredeveld, director of UC's Center Economic Education, says teen-agers pick up the spending habits of many adults on the job — spend, spend, spend.

        “These young workers are acting like everybody else who spends all of their paychecks,” he says.

        According to Mr. Vredevel, since many teens spend almost every dollar earned, summer employment actually gives a moderate lift to the U.S. economy.

        And that's only half of the impact. The other half, he's says, is even more valuable to the country.

        “I think the impact of a summer job is directed to the person because he or she gets experience and income.”

        And that's how we view summer jobs. Parents see seasonal employment for experience, and young adults see income that can be used for the first dream rust-buckets or two semesters' worth of collegiate paperbacks.

        But even before college calls — or whatever plans will follow high school — a summer job also may provide an opportunity to test the workforce waters before having to pick a path to the “real world” river.

        Let's hope these summer jobs have rubbed off on our teens as well as my fabulous folding process has on my towel trophies.

        Kevin Hardy is an intern on the Enquirer's Editorial Page this summer. He is a junior at Michigan State University and is working on a bachelor's degree in journalism. Readers may write to him c/o The Cincinnati Enquirer, 312 Elm St., Cincinnati, OH., 45202.


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