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Clocked In

Young workers seek new paths to jobs

Sayre Quevedo Aug 23, 2012
Clocked In

Young workers seek new paths to jobs

Sayre Quevedo Aug 23, 2012

Tess Vigeland: Young people are among the Americans hurt most by the Great Recession. The unemployment rate for 16- to 24-year-olds is more than double the national average. A lot of young workers are realizing that the path they thought would lead to a career — go to college, work hard, get a great job — may not pan out.

Today we kick off a series called “Clocked In,” from our partners at Youth Radio. They’re examining some of the new paths that young people are choosing. Here’s reporter Sayre Quevedo.

Sayre Quevedo: Comedian Chris Rock has this great stand up bit where he talks about working at Red Lobster as a teen, dishwashing in the back of the restaurant. His job was to basically scrape shrimp into trash cans all day.

I’ve also worked as a dishwasher, so I know what it’s like to come home stinking of Hollandaise. Touching leftovers isn’t even the worst part. What’s worse, Rock says, is glancing up at the clock.

Chris Rock (from comedy routine): When you got a career, there ain’t enough time in the day. When you got a job, there’s too much time.

But these days jobs — not careers — are what a lot of us are able to get.

Marlene Schoefer-Wulf: She wanted me to reorganize the nail polishes in rainbow order.

My friend Marlene Schoefer-Wulf used to work retail, and she’ll never forget the moment she realized it was a dead end. It happened one Friday night, after she’d already worked nine hours, when her boss asked her to get all creative the nail gloss.

Schoefer-Wulf: It was a box filled with nail polish, but it wasn’t organized at all. It was just a box with like a thousand nail polish shades in it. I actually, I dreamt of this for nights afterwards because it was mindless work. And I want to do something where my brain is engaged and I’m happy working, and I’m not being taken advantage of.

Every young person I know has a story like this. And the question we all ask is: “How do we go from sorting nail polish to actually earning a decent wage, and maybe even liking our jobs — without being crippled by college debt?”

Stephanie Luce: I myself feel torn about recommending young people to go to college.

Which is a little awkward for Stephanie Luce, because she works at a college. She’s a professor of labor studies at the City University of New York.

Luce: I believe higher education is very valuable in its own right, but I would hate to have anyone take on that kind of debt.

Here’s the problem. There are two competing realities for my generation. College is getting more expensive and careers, they’re just hard to come by.

Luce: Young people today are among the first generations in the history of the United States that cannot be assured of earning average wages higher than their parents.

Okay, so I don’t know about you but I find that kind of depressing. I’m 19, and like a lot of people my age, I spend most of my time thinking about the future. I spoke to bunch of my peers and we’re all anxious about what’s next.

Young worker 1: Right now I don’t really feel like what I’m passionate about is something I could pursue as a career.
Young worker 2: Trying to get a job without a highschool diploma is hard…won’t nobody hire you.
Young worker 3: I really gave up on jobs due to the fact of how hard it is to get them. They’re only paying you so little in order to take care of so much. 

On the other hand, there are employers, educators and organizations that are coming up with solutions to address the skills gap and put young adults to work. I know, good news about the economy? That’s something everyone, especially my peers, need to hear right now.

I’m Sayre Quevedo for Marketplace.

Vigeland: Our series “Clocked In” picks back up next week. It’s produced by Youth Radio’s “New Options Desk,” which reports on how young adults are finding work.

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