During the school year, Chris Lee is a straight-A student, captain of the varsity boys’ swim team, and leader of three campus clubs. On top of it all, he works ten hours a week as a marketing intern, and he is not alone.
Like Lee, many teenagers in the Tri-Valley have to juggle the constant demands of a job while managing schoolwork and extracurricular activities.
A recent study published by the United States Department of Labor shows that half a million teens in California are employed, or one-third of the state teen population. However, with growing unemployment rates nationwide, teens are feeling the pressure too.
Says Lee, “Last month, my manager told us we had to take a twenty percent pay cut. It was either that or layoffs, so we all agreed to take one for the team.”
Others were not as fortunate.
Anchal Singh, a high school graduate as of June, was laid off from his cashier job of two years. To afford college tuition in the fall, he is still in search of a new job.
While teens like Singh continue to look for work, other teens like Lee have another side of the story. For them, sometimes academics take a backseat to responsibilities at work.
“I’m glad I still have my job, but it’s hard to keep up with school and everything else in my life,” says Lee. “Summer is my down time because I don’t have to worry about school.”
But during the school year, between swim practices, club meetings, and waiting tables, Lee also must manage his homework and make time for friends and family.
Lauren Wilson, a student and part-time researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, agrees. “With a job, you have to consider your priorities because not all teachers or coaches are understanding,” she says.
Even so, students agree that holding down a job is one of the most rewarding parts of being a teenager.
Like Gupta, Lee works to save for college. Although Lee’s parents will pay for college, he still wants to contribute to his tuition and feel responsible. His goal is to become financially independent by the time he is in college.
On the other hand, Wilson enjoys working because it improves her knowledge of science. Like others who put ten hours a week into stem cell research at Berkeley, she wants to become a biologist.
But all three teens agree that the best part of having a job comes from personal development.
“I learned about my strengths and weaknesses, how to get along with coworkers, how to handle difficult customers, and how to compromise. And in the process,” says Lee, “I learned about myself.”
Some names have been changed per student request.