Teaching valuable lessons

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Labor Secretary Elaine Chao angered many labor groups when she said that young Americans don't always make the best employees. Chao was making a larger point about how some companies turn to foreign workers for reasons that go beyond the fact that they'll work cheaper. She said that part of the problem is what has become of the American work ethic.

As with all generalities, there are exceptions even if the generality is valid, which is questionable. We suspect that the use of foreign workers primarily comes down to money.

That being said, we don't need to quibble over whether or not young people in the 'good old days' had a stronger work ethic and more positive work attitudes than young people of today. Developing work skills has always been and always will be important and it needs to start during the teen years.

One trend that seems disturbing is the fact that fewer teens are working at summer jobs. According to the Labor Department, last month, only 48.8 percent of U.S. teens ages 16 to 19 were working or looking for work. That is the lowest figure since the government began keeping track of labor force participation among teenagers more than a half-century ago.

This doesn't mean that the kids are lazy. The reduction in summer jobs correlates to an increase in teens spending time in academic pursuits during the summer.

Academic pursuits should certainly be encouraged but there are skills that teens need to learn and can only learn by having a job.

Parents do not do their children any favors by shielding them from the demands of the workplace.