Over Memorial Day weekend, Baltimore tookfrom reports of mobs of 300-500 kids running wild around the Inner Harbor (tourist) area. The kids were disrupting traffic, fighting amongst themselves, jumping on cars, robbing and threatening people and basically enjoying the “safety of the herd.”
The police were able to diffuse the worst of the situations and eventually disperse the crowd. Six people were arrested but there were no injuries (caused by the police).
In the aftermath, city officials, citizens, and the media are squabbling over the incident. It’s all the usual stuff…
“Arrest the lot of them, they’re all thugs and punks.”
“Don’t blame the kids, they don’t have anything else to keep them busy.”
“It’s only a few bad apples.”
“This is why we need concealed carry.”
And on it goes. Everyone’s talking but there’s no consensus and nothing changes. I expect the same story from 4th of July weekend and Labor Day.
But it did get me thinking, in the broader sense, about what kids today are supposed to do.
There are a lot of things where kids have it better than I did when I was growing up… hundreds of TV stations instead of 4, dazzling video games to play instead of “Pong,” the entirety of civilized knowledge to carry around in one’s pants pocket…
But what about the jobs? When I was 16-17, most of my friends and classmates had jobs. I worked at a grocery store, then a gas station and a record store. I was thankful to avoid the food industry but there were lots of jobs to be found there.
Director’s DVD Commentary: I’m omitting the several months I worked at a glass factory, or what I call, “My Summer in Hell.” I earned a higher wage, but it cost me my job at the grocery store when summer was over. Hence my stint at the world’s chintziest gas station.
Where are the jobs for teens now? There used to be tons of jobs in stores in malls, but those are just gone. Disappeared along with the malls themselves. Amazon put them all out of business. My old record stores? Even in the malls that are left, there aren’t many music stores. I mean, why would there be? Who even buys the physical music media anymore? Any song you want to hear is only a .99 download away (if you can’t figure out how to get it for free).
Remaining retail outlets are rolling out self-checkouts as fast as they can. There go the cashier jobs. When I go to the big box stores, there are still a handful of cashiers alongside the self-scanning stations, but not nearly as many as there used to be. And the more we become accustomed to scanning our own stuff, the fewer cashiers there will be. Pretty soon, it’ll be down to one poor lonely cashier, there solely to ring up the rebels and cranks who refuse to do it themselves.
Even warehouse and stocking jobs are becoming automated. Amazon uses robots all over their warehouses. Grocery stores, at least the bigger ones, are often stocked overnight, which is not conducive to school-aged labor.
And where there ARE jobs available, they have to fight 20-somethings and retirees for them.
So what’s a kid supposed to do in 2019, get a fake ID and drive for Uber? IF they can get their hands on a car? That’s why we see kids running drugs or working the squeegee on street corners.
I got my first job at 16 and but for a few brief gaps, worked continuously through college and beyond. Those part-time jobs paid for almost the entirety of my college education and gave me money for dates, gas, beer and the occasional record album.
Those jobs taught me about the real world, where I had to be responsible, dedicated and do things correctly. When I didn’t, I’d get written up or fired. It was on me to stay in my employer’s good graces.
I’ve always been proud of my relative* self-sufficient teenage years and I was only able to feel that way because there were jobs available to me.
I say relative* because I lived at home and commuted to college, so I had free room and board. Going to a local and affordable state school was a conscious choice I made to keep costs down. Also, note that this was back when a part-time job could still pay for college. Current tuition rates, in comparison to current wages, make that impossible today.
I don’t want to make alibis for anti-social behavior, but I might feel a little boisterous too if I had no money, no job, and no prospects for changing that equation. City leaders can ruminate on creating places for leisure activities, but that only moves the problem to a different location.
A job teaches responsibility and instills a degree of pride and self-worth. Maybe they can find a way to create some of those instead of kicking around another skateboard park or motocross track that never comes to pass.