High achieving high school students know that if they want to be admitted to a competitive college they must perform a certain amount of charity work.
Since schools seem to want to judge students by holistic criteria—in preference to using test scores and other measures of aptitude—students also do well to involve themselves in what are called “enrichment programs.”
This means that fewer and fewer high school students will, by the time they graduate, have held down real jobs.
Apparently, an ethic emphasizing community service has replaced a work ethic. It should not be surprising that these same students end up believing in the transcendent value of do-gooding government programs.
Allison Schrager describes the shift:
It’s likely that both the decline in teen employment and the lower returns from it are reflections of a broader cultural shift—parents, teens, and college admissions officers seem to value extracurriculars, community service, and enrichment programs over burger-flipping. For kids who don’t need the money, there’s little incentive to work; the kids who do need the money are by definition more likely to come from poorer families, with the attendant and well-documented academic and professional disadvantages.
The question is: at what price?
Schrager suggests that young people who lack work experience enter the workforce at a disadvantage.
Just because there are fewer economic benefits to high school work doesn’t mean teenagers are off the hook. Employers complain millennials lack soft skills, like getting to work on time, dealing with a boss, teamwork, and a positive attitude. Complaining about disrespectful and lazy youngsters is as old as time, but there may be something behind their concerns: Millennials are entering the labor force with less job experience than earlier generations.
Humility and soft skills come with maturity and the sort of work experience people used to get in a low-skill high school job. The data in this study doesn’t capture the later generation who didn’t work in high school. Perhaps as soft skills are increasingly recognized as a rare commodity, the premium on high school work will rise again.
Strangely enough, a child who does exactly what he needs to do to gain admission into an Ivy League school will have missed out on opportunities to engage in real work, to gain job experience and to build character.
And yet, in a world where character has been redefined as a capacity for empathy, what did you expect?