07/31/2007 03:40 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Summertime: Is Teen Livin' Too Easy?

I know I'm about to sound like the stereotypical Gen Xer when I say you can learn from menial labor. I've written about this on Ypulse before, how the hot sweaty days I spent making bagels at 15 were character building. The latest labor statistics are showing that less teens are working -- both those who want jobs and teens who are opting for "alternative experiences." I stumbled across this local story in which Neil Howe chalks up teens forgoing these types of jobs for "experiences" like theater camp as a sign that this generation (Millennials) are higher achievers. First, here is the stat:

Fewer than half the nation's nearly 17 millions teens ages 16-19 - or 48.8 percent - had or wanted jobs in June, according to data released July 6 by the U.S. Department of Labor.

That's down from 51.6 percent the previous year, and a significant drop from 2000, when 60 percent of 16- to 19-year-olds were participants in the work force.

I'm not going to knock learning stagecraft for a summer, but I do think something is lost when young people don't experience this type of work. When they get their first job after college, and are asked to go stuff 200 envelopes, they might not be prepared for the boredom and redundancy that comes with that type of menial task. They might bristle at being asked, think back to "experiences" where they were building amazing sets and decide to seek fulfillment elsewhere. I'm being extreme. I know if they're given the context of where the envelopes are going and how this task contributes to the bigger picture, they'll stuff happily.

But maybe more importantly, upper middle class teens, whose parents can afford to subsidize their summers, won't have the experience I have in restaurants after having waited tables in both high school and college. I empathize with the waitress in the weeds and feel compelled to tip generously, because I've "been there." By working at these types of jobs, we all get to experience what most people in this country experience. I really think teens who bypass this type of work all together miss something important, something that builds character and helps them to relate to their less fortunate peers who often have to work these jobs to help support their families. And, as a Ypulse commenter noted, "It's also important to work at a crappy, boring, labor-intensive job to learn that you don't really want to work at crappy, boring, labor-intensive jobs for your whole life. It's great motivation for getting an education."