In the "summer of '69" -- a line made famous by Boomer rocker Jackson Browne -- I spent several weeks scouring the Houston area for a summer job. After countless job applications and rejections, I became desperate since I needed money to pay for my college education.
But even then I understood the primary source of my predicament. Too many Baby Boomers were competing for too few summer jobs. One morning in mid-June that summer, I spotted a newspaper ad aimed at college students. The ad offered high pay, prizes, and even a free trip to Madrid. I took the bait.
The high paying job turned out to be door-to-door encyclopedia sales, with no base compensation and only sales commissions. Nevertheless, this is how I finally spent the rest of that summer -- traveling throughout southern Texas with 30 other college students and selling books door-to-door.
Every night of the week, including Sundays, a team leader would drop me in a middle-class neighborhood in hot spots such as Lubbock and Denton, where I would fend for myself for six hours. Either I successfully got my foot in the door to make my sales pitch or I would walk the neighborhood streets for six hours, enduring one rejection after another. This was before the era of convenience stores on every corner.
It turned out that I had a talent for sales and made more money than would have been possible in a retail job. Would I have rather had an air-conditioned job at a fast food restaurant, with a dependable paycheck? You bet. Nevertheless, I accepted the plight of too many boomers for too few jobs and learned many lessons about sales and rejection. But that's another story.
I spotted an article this week in the Los Angeles Daily News that reminded me of that hot Houston summer 36 years ago. A troubling headline grabbed my attention: "Teens face job bust by Boomers' hands." The article further explains that "job layoffs and retiree's need for more money push older workers to seek out jobs normally taken by youths."
Sadly, during the past four years, the summer employment rate for teenagers has fallen, dropping to 36.3 percent in 2004. Almost two-thirds of the nation's teens are not finding summer jobs! That's a lot of shiftless teens, without work, and confronting seemingly endless summer days lacking structure or cash flow.
According to the authors of the research study, who relied on statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, "The older workers (55 and up) are taking jobs that traditionally went to teens." The authors conclude that a stalling economy and corporate downsizing have led older workers to seek out jobs previously not needed. As Boomers age, "this type of job regression could escalate even more."
I can't help but see some irony in this article. Maturing adults -- most with lifetime experiences and education far more valuable than the skills required by low-end clerking jobs -- are facing poverty or underemployment. Some choice. The Boomer generation is also facing increasing social hostility for crowding teens out of jobs that teens truly deserve. It's awful to be 19 and not have a decent summer job -- I know, that was almost how I spent the summer of '69. (I owe a note of gratitude here to Collier's Merit Students' Encyclopedia for making my summer job possible.)
History, as the cliche goes, repeats itself.