Emily is a 15-year-old from Miami, Fl. She enjoys the beach, Disney World, baking cupcakes, and hanging with friends.
Three months ago my parents gathered the family around the table and told us that my dad’s salary was getting cut 40% because of the economic downturn. I didn’t know what to think. It was too much for my naive 15 year-old-brain to process. I saw the days of movie outings with friends, impromptu shopping sprees, and decadent restaurant nights out diminishing before my eyes. The lifestyle that I so looked forward to, in my teen years seemed to turn to dust. My parents pressed the fast forward button before I had the chance to speak, and now I was being immersed in “adult situations.” Dinner conversations became consumed with rising insurance rates, ways to cut our phone bills, coupon cutting, and switching to basic cable instead of having 500 channels. Not that I have ever personally been spoiled, but I’ve constantly been surrounded by people who are. Living in Miami, most teens here have a certain lifestyle. Most of my friend’s parents are doctors, lawyers, or other high paying professionals. When I go to the mall with them, their parents will give them $400 to spend, while I’ll bring the $30 I got from babysitting on Saturday. My circle of friends goes on European cruises for spring break, while I consider myself lucky if my family manages to scrape some money together to go to Disney World.
The recession has strained my family in ways that bring my mom to tears sometimes. When you’re a parent, all you want to do for your kids is give them the best of everything, but when you can’t do that without risking going bankrupt, you feel like a failure. Throughout my life, I’ve gotten used to hearing “NO” for things, like asking to go to sleep away camps, invites on vacations with friends, and overly priced jeans. But recently, the “No’s” have become more constant for even the most trivial of items. Last week I told my mom to pick up some shampoo at the grocery store for me because I was out, but she told me that she couldn’t because there was $2.97 at the moment and she couldn’t risk bouncing a check. That day, I thought about getting a part-time job for the first time in my life. And not the typical babysitting job where you go across the street to take care of little Johnny for an hour, but one that I’d clock in and out of. I’ve never hesitated at the thought of getting a job, it always seemed like a sort of rite of passage, but I always assumed it would be when I was 17, to buy my first car or score some front row seats. I never would have imagined getting a job to help out with my parents.
Shortly after, I logged onto www.snagajob.com and www.teens4hire.org . I must have sent out over 20 applications. I only got one reply, though, but once they found out my young age, it was as if I could literally see their eyes roll over the phone. But, apparently I’m not along in the teen job hunt. According to statistics discovered by series “CBS Reports: Children of the Recession,” employment for teens age 16-19 has dropped from 45% in 2000 to just 30% as of 2009. Chris Wragge, co-anchor of Early Show Saturday Edition, points out that “many teens need the jobs to help their families to stay afloat, not just for spending money.” But the recession is putting teens up against older, more experienced workers vouching for the same positions. One of the teens who participated in the series, Bianca Rivera, 16, has been looking for a job at a day care center for six months. She says “ They ask you your age, and when you say 16 they say, ‘OK, okay we’ll give you a call after you sign the application,’ and they never call.”
But, the recession struggles aren’t just affecting the present, it’s also affecting the future. Teens are having more issues affording college. Derek Garcia, 17, who also participated in the special, says “My friends got into their first choice colleges, but they can’t go. A lot of colleges are very expensive- $40,000 to $50,000- and they just didn’t get enough financial aid.” And with rising health insurance prices, and companies covering less, many teens are finding themselves uninsured, putting them at a high risk for possible life-threatening diseases. Even these basic needs are being denied to our youth, and it’s scary to think of the dismal outcome which is becoming more prominent with each passing day.
Usually adults look back on their childhood as a sort of whimsical. One with no cares, responsibilities, or concerns. My parents, at least, were baby boomers, and were born into a world filled with prosperity. Sometimes, during my conversations with them, they’ll reflect about how they could get a cherry coke for 5 cents, or how they’d get a Mars bar for 15 cents. It all seems so alien to me, living in a time where getting a popcorn and soda at the movie theater costs more than the movie itself. It makes me long for my parent’s fairytale stories of innocence and happiness to become a reality again, but for now there are no fairytales, just wishes for one to come.
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