Summer Help Not Wanted

I posted recently on the impact of the recession on the summer job market for teenagers.  Now USA Today has written a feature piece on the extent of the downturn in jobs for teenagers.   Ten years ago, about half of all teens had jobs; this year it is only about 25 percent.  The story notes that teens now are in competition for scarce jobs with older workers, immigrants, and former blue collar workers.  In addition, increases to the minimum wage have hurt the number of jobs available for teenagers, and have had a disproportionately harsh impact on jobs for minority teens.  One potential solution — a special, lower minimum wage for teenager workers — doesn’t seem to have much support in Congress.

Whatever the cause, I think few would argue against the proposition that having a bunch of unemployed teenagers laying around this summer is not a good thing.  Summer jobs provide crucial learning experiences for teenagers and help to ingrain habits of hard work and thrift.  In addition, there is truth to the old adage that “idle hands are the devil’s workshop.”  Teenagers who are working at a pool, a Dairy Queen, a golf course, a grocery store, or on a lawn crew don’t have as much time to be “bored” and engage in risky behavior with their friends.

There has been a vigorous debate about whether increasing the minimum wage has been helpful or harmful.  If the price of higher wages is fewer teenage jobs, I am not sure that it was a price worth paying.

The Terrorists Amongst Us

Faisal Shahzad, the terrorist who tried to set off a car bomb in Times Square on a crowded Saturday night, pleaded guilty yesterday to a series of terrorism and weapons charges.  He apparently intended his guilty plea to send a message to the United States that if it did not stop “meddling” in Muslim lands and get out of Iraq and Afghanistan, more attacks would be coming.  (As if Muslim extremists did not start this process with the 9/11 attacks, or the even earlier attack on the USS Cole and the failed World Trade Center bombing.)

What many Americans find most disturbing about people like Faisal Shahzad is that his example strikes at the core of a deeply-held belief:  that if our enemies simply got to know us, they would inevitably understand that we mean them no harm and indeed would accept our way of life as the better path.  Shahzad, like the 9/11 terrorists before him, demonstrates that that belief simply cannot be applied to everyone.  Born in Pakistan, Shahzad moved to the United States when he was 18 and was a naturalized U.S. citizen who lived in suburban Bridgeport, Connecticut.  He was thoroughly exposed to American culture — yet he somehow became a radicalized Muslim, went to Pakistan to receive weeks of explosives training, received infusions of cash from the Pakistani Taliban, and then tried to deliver a devastating, murderous blow to the country that welcomed him and his family.

It is a sad day in America when we cannot trust our neighbors to behave as Americans, whatever their religious or cultural beliefs.  The challenge for our society will be to maintain appropriate vigilance for signs of terrorist activity while not becoming inherently suspicious of anyone who looks different.  It will not be an easy task.