Greg Fischer, the mayor of Louisville, Ky., remembers his first summer job—cutting grass as a 14-year-old.
“It was hot, it was dirty,” Fischer said, “but I loved collecting that cash at the end of the [day].”
The pay was not that great, but the lessons stayed with Fischer throughout his lifetime. Over the years, he had summer jobs that included stints roofing and working on fishing boats in Alaska during his college years.
“It teaches you how to hustle,” added Fischer, who later became a successful businessman before getting into politics. He has since started a SummerWorks program for youth in his city. “It teaches you that you have to go out and ask for the order. You got to show up because the grass keeps growing.”
For Fischer and others, the first summer job is a defining experience, where teens learn the lessons of hard work. For many, it’s their first interaction with adults in a corporate environment, where they learn the importance of showing up on time, communicating professionally, collaborating, and other key “soft” skills that can help them succeed later in life.
But in the last few years, teenagers have been losing out on those lessons as those summer jobs became harder and harder to find.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the seasonally unadjusted summer employment rate fell for those 16 to 19 years old, from 53.5 percent in July 2000 (July is normally the highest month for teen employment) to 33.4 in July 2014.
Teens who work tend to contribute to their households or spend the money on essentials that they need.
Research has also backed the benefits of those programs, particularly in lower-income areas. A study released this year by Sarah Heller, an assistant professor of criminology at the University of Pennsylvania, examined the impacts on students who participated in the One Summer Plus, a Chicago summer youth-employment program that also provided extra supports for students. Those students, according to Heller’s study, were less likely to be involved in violence even after the program had ended. Other studies have shown that students who get early job experiences during high school were likely to earn higher wages and were at higher levels in their professions nine years later than those who did not work during high school.
But Paul Harrington, the director of the Center for Labor Markets and Policy at Drexel University, says that early job experience is not just about the money—it’s also about the dignity that comes from working.
This week, Education Week is launching an effort to find out about your summer job. If you’re a teen, tell us about what you’re doing this summer—where you’re working, what you’re learning, and how the job is helping you develop. And if you’re an adult, let us know how your summer jobs helped shaped you into the individual you are today. Send us photos on Twitter and Instagram. Use the hashtag #MySummerJob. (Read the directions and fine print here.)
A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.