Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Undermining the Work Ethic

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.

She explains:

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?


Ares Olympus said...

Funny! I don't think teens think about "work ethics" whatever they do. Social skills can be learned in many places, and learning how to be, or not to be a "yes man", also has lots of places to discover, not just having a boss who can fire you.

I had a paper route in the 1980's through my first year in college. I calculated I could earn $20 per hour if I could finish in 10 minutes. I felt pretty rich, in time and money.

Did I have a work ethic? I'm not sure, but I did have a savings ethic, and saved enough to buy my first 10-speed bicycle, telescope, and computer. But mostly I learned about security of having money in the bank, just in case I needed something.

My brother and his ex-wife had a work ethic. They both worked 60 hours per week with overtime and side jobs each during the three years of their marriage, and managed to divorce with more debt than they had when they started.

I concluded their decides were based on feeling sorry for themselves and spent more money to reward themselves for their deprivation of working so hard.

What is a "real job" anyway? Who wants such a thing? Yes, you want to have an access to income, and a stable organization who can afford to pay you, and you want to be grateful if you can contribute. But if you don't need the money, there's so many better things to do.

Dennis said...

The other day I was watching Charles Paine on FOX Business Channel. What struck me was the fact that Charles Paine was the only one who seemed to recognize that giving up freedom for safety and/or security was a dangerous concept.
The panel contained a number of women that I consider smart, intelligent and knowledgeable. To a person each woman was willing to give away some of their freedoms to have what they believed to be safety and security. I have noticed this tendency in a significant number of women and a some men.
It does seem to me that one does not respect that which they have not had to face the challenges requisite in maintaining or learning through trial and error. I suspect this has to do with the work ethic, the ability to face hardships and challenges and ultimately what people will give up in freedom for safety and security.
It does bother me at times when I read and see so many people who have no concept of what it take to be good at something, truly become wise as opposed to educated, and the freedoms they take so much for granted.
It does not matter how many jobs one works, but how one uses the fruit of that labor to better one's family's life. What good does it do to work a number of jobs if it only means one spends more money. Bad money management is why large numbers of people never seem to get a head.
My wive and I have taken a hundred increased to two hundred dollars a month, which we could live without, and did weighted average investment. Over the course of years that has turned into real money. A block of stock here a block of stock there.
By the way I started as a teenager standing in line loading watermelons into box cars and working construction at 16 during the summers.

sestamibi said...

While I agree with the premise of your post, a couple of caveats must be kept in mind:

First, many of the jobs that teenagers used to perform are gone. The disappearance of many daily newspapers and decline of those remaining result in far fewer available positions for paper boys, with many replaced by "toss" service, in which an adult driving a car throws the subscriber's paper on the lawn and not drops it at the front door (leaving it to get wet, collect dog poop, etc.)

Second, the structurally weak labor market has changed the composition of many minimum wage jobs (particularly in the fast food industry). Previously populated by teenagers, they are now handled by adults pushed out of manufacturing jobs traditionally held. And as precarious as the new McJobs are, even THEY are about to be displaced by machines--and will be if the $15 minimum wage movement starts gathering steam.