Teen Summer Jobs: Rethinking Fast Food Option?


Katie and I have discussed establishing a loose subject-matter rotation for this Blawg, to maintain a nice balance of topics for everyone.

We may yet implement a flexible version of such a concept — but the news cycle definitely gets in the way. As we speed-read through tons of material looking for the best items to include in our news headlines at right and on our News page, we often find more has been written about topics we’ve recently covered. We’re then tempted to re-post on such hot topics — without waiting to work our way through a nice rotation.

Such is the case today with the hot seasonal topic of summer jobs for teens, about which Katie wrote a few days ago (“Teens May Need to Look Hard for Summer Jobs”).

A study quoted in one recent article “shows that about two-thirds of the 14- to 18-year-old age group employment in [Washington] state is in the fast-food establishment, an industry many students say they want nothing to do with.”

The article continues: “High school students want the ‘cool’ jobs: Working at popular retail chains, camp counseling and ice cream shops are some examples. But some find the only jobs available are in the fast-food industry or manual labor.”

An adult in the recruiting industry provides a reality check: “the stigmatized jobs are not that bad . . . McDonald’s has a wonderful training program . . . . Sometimes our perceptions are off. If we were more open to learning about a company . . . maybe there would be more opportunities.”

To break into the job market, an expert suggest new applicants try companies such as Chick-fil-A, which hires students as young as 15.

So How Bad Is a Fast Food Job, Anyway?

I wrote about “McJobs” way back in November 2003 (“Burger flippers get no respect these days”). This is worth repeating:

While these days I try to avoid the [fast food] cuisine, unless forced to go there to satisfy family members, I am an unabashed supporter of McJobs. My first job, at age 16 in 1974, was at the McDonald’s on East Third Street in Bloomington, Indiana.

It was very hard work, especially on [Indiana University] football weekends, but we really had a lot of fun. So much so that when I got together with some old friends last summer, with whom I had worked there, we stopped in at the old store and posed for this photo (that’s me on the right).


I met store assistant managers intent on working up through the ranks, and regional managers who had already done so. To them, it was certainly not “dead-end work,” but good old-fashioned American opportunity.

I learned the work ethic through the famous words of revered founder Ray Kroc: “If you’ve got time to lean, you’ve got time to clean.”

While I wouldn’t envy anyone trying to support a family working a McJob, I heartily recommend it as a life-stage job for young people, and would hope a good work record at such a job is viewed positively by persons making hiring decisions for higher-paying jobs as well, rather than as a sign of lack of ambition.

At McDonalds the ladder from fry cook or drive-thru jockey to management is still very real, if one is to believe this cool commercial:

A Smattering of Statistics:

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics shines some interesting light on the food preparation industry as a whole:

  • 1/5 of cooks and food prep workers are between 16 and 19 years old.
  • 2/5 of food prep workers are employed part time
  • Because many workers “burn out from the fast work pace and pressure to fill orders quickly,” job openings are plentiful.

For those who can hack it, there are rewards for sticking with the job. The BLS states that “experience as food and beverage preparation and service workers is essential for promotion into managerial positions.” (Duh.)

A bonus for future fast food and restaurant managers: The growing U.S. population means more mouths to feed. The restaurants that crop up to feed the people need managers. You get hired. And isn’t that the happiest of endings?

Hat tip for the YouTube clip to Celeste’s Thoughts, a new blog by the co-founder of myfirstpaycheck.com (coming soon).



  1. Katie Rice

    George —

    Time Magazine reports that McDonald’s is trying to change the dictionary definition of “McJob,” which is currently defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as “an unstimulating, low-paid job with few prospects, especially one created by the expansion of the service sector.”

    McDonald’s argues this definition insults the employees; it should be changed to “reflect a job that is stimulating, rewarding … and offers skills that last a lifetime.”

    For the full story, check out “Can McDonald’s Alter the Dictionary?” at http://www.time.com/time/business/article/0,8599,1628391,00.html.

  2. Thanks for finding that, Katie. Reinforces what I said about hot topics, eh?

    McDonald’s looks silly, of course, and overstates their case with their substitute “definition.”

    As usual, the truth lies somewhere in between . . .

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