Summer jobs have always been a part of the American teen experience. Part-time, hourly  jobs give teens a preview of what the real world is like while helping pay the bills. But what happens when a generation finds that summer jobs are vanishing?

The Era of the Vanishing Summer Job

Our oldest daughter just finished her freshman year of college. This past year has been one of transitions and firsts, and we all assumed that this summer would also bring her first summer job. Although she started looking for jobs in March, she’s received few calls and even fewer interviews.

You might think that she’s being too picky or not looking hard enough. But she has applied for everything from fast food to blueberry picking. And she’s not alone. Her friends are finding it equally difficult to find summer jobs. Jobs that they need to cover college expenses.

Even when she uses our network of family and friends, our daughter is finding that employers don’t want to invest in short-term summer employees. It seems that we’re in a new era of the vanishing summer job.

Where Have All the Jobs Gone?

Frankly, employers don’t have to hire people for the summer. Forty percent of the unemployed population are between the ages of 18 and 29.  So, the kinds of low-paying jobs that youth typically do are now being filled by older, college-educated millennials who are underemployed. Why hire and train someone for a few weeks in the summer when employers can hire someone who will be there year-round?

Technology is also impacting the job market – particularly lower-paying jobs that require fewer skills. Consider the number of automated kiosks we use.  Each kiosk reduces the need for a human being to provide customer service. Or what about the self-checkout line at the grocery store? One person can monitor several checkout lines while the customers do the work that teens and young people used to do.

What Are We Losing with the Vanishing Summer Job?

Young people lose more than a paycheck when they can’t secure a summer job.  They lose the opportunity to gain the professional experience and skills that prepare them for future higher-paying careers. 

They also miss out on the dignity and personal wholeness that comes with working.  Catholic social teaching puts it this way.

The economy must serve people, not the other way around. Work is more than a way to  make a living; it is a form of continuing participation in God’s creation. If  the dignity of work is to be protected, then the basic rights of workers must  be respected–the right to productive work, to decent and fair wages, to the  organization and joining of unions, to private property, and to economic  initiative.

The issue of the vanishing summer job (or the lack of jobs for any would-be worker) has as much to do with personal and spiritual satisfaction as it does with money in the bank.

The Vanishing Summer Job and Human Dignity

The truth of the matter is that our economy encourages businesses to create efficiencies that reduce the number of workers for the sake of increased profits. Workers and human dignity are discarded as a cost saving measure. In many cases, it comes down to greed.

Scripture is filled with teachings about creating a just economy — one that that doesn’t oppress the poor or the needy. And Jesus specifically taught us to avoid greed in Luke 12:15.

Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.

When we have been entrusted by God with the means to provide livelihoods for others, let’s always choose to put people before profits.