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Clocked In: Putting Young People to Work

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This story aired on Marketplace 8/24/12.

By: Sayre Quevedo

Comedian Chris Rock has this great stand up bit where he talks about working at Red Lobster as a teen, dishwashing in the back of the restaurant. His job was to basically scrape shrimp into trashcans all day. I've also worked as a dishwasher, so I know what it's like to come home stinking of Hollandaise. Touching left-overs isn't even the worst part. What's worse, Rock says, is glancing up at the clock.

"When you got a career. There ain't enough time in the day," Rock says, but "when you got a job. There's too much time."

But these days jobs, not careers, are what a lot of us are able to get.

My friend Marlene Schoefer-Wulf used to work retail. And she'll never forget the moment she realized it was a dead end. It happened one Friday night, after she'd already worked 9 hours, when her boss asked her to get all creative the nail gloss. "She wanted me to reorganize the nail polishes in rainbow order," said Wulf. "It was just a box with like a thousand nail polish shades in it. I actually dreamt of this for nights afterwards because it was mindless work. And I want to do something where my brain is engaged and I'm happy working, and I'm not being taken advantage of."

Every young person I know has a story like this. And the question we all ask is, "How do we go from sorting nail polish to actually earning a decent wage and maybe even liking our jobs, without being crippled by college debt?"

Stephanie Luce feels torn about reccomending young people to go to college, which is a little awkward considering she works at a University. Luce, a professor of Labor Studies at the City University of New York, says, "I believe higher education is very valuable in its own right, but I would hate to have anyone take on that kind of debt."

Here's the problem. There are two competing realities for my generation. College is getting more expensive and careers, they're just hard to come by. "Young people today are among the first generations in the history of the United States," says Luce, "that cannot be assured of earning average wages higher than their parents."

I don't know about you but I find that kind of depressing. I'm 19, and like a lot of people my age, I spend most of my time thinking about the future. And it's not just me. I spoke to bunch of my peers and we're all anxious about what's next.

My friend Alonza Lasher is 19 years old and waiting tables at a restaurant. She chose not to go to college when she graduated high school last year, because she wasn't commited to a particular major and didn't want to shell out on tuition until she chosen a particular career path. Yet deciding on a career path is tricky says Lasher, because " Right now I don't really feel like what I'm passionate about is something I could pursue as a career."

Champale Holmes says she dropped out of high school because she couldn't see how it connected to future. Now, at 21, she's working to get her GED so she find a good blue collar job. "Trying to get a job without a highschool diploma is hard," says Holmes, "won't nobody hire you."

21 year-old Chris Alsobrook began going to barber college because he lost faith in finding a living wage job. Alsobrook said, "I really gave up on jobs due to the fact of how hard it is to get them. They're only paying you so little in order to take care of so much.

But there are employers, educators and organizations that are are coming up with solutions to address the skills gap and put young adults to work. Good news about the economy? That's something everyone, especially my peers, need to hear right now.

Originally published on Youthradio.org, the premier source for youth generated news throughout the globe.

Youth Radio/Youth Media International (YMI) is youth-driven converged media production company that delivers the best youth news, culture and undiscovered talent to a cross section of audiences. To read more youth news from around the globe and explore high quality audio and video features, visit Youthradio.org