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Teen barista

Source: Wikimedia Commons

On a bitterly cold day, Josh, like many other teenagers, traveled many miles to get to the coffee shop, where he works part-time. Despite experiencing car troubles, nearly having a car accident, and spending hours in heavy traffic, he arrived at the coffee shop only to do a double shift, carry heavy loads of garbage in the cold, and deal with a hectic day of selling hot beverages to demanding customers.

Even though his school was in session, he chose to come to work instead of going to class at the local college, where he is getting his degree in theater and humanities. When I asked him why he chose his work over his studies, he told me they need him here: “Nobody notices when I am not [in class].” Unlike at school, they notice him at work. He feels needed—like a hot cup of cocoa on a cold day.

Josh, like many other teenagers, works “part-time” while still in school, but do not be fooled by what he calls part-time work. “Part-time” sounds like a few hours of work scattered throughout the week, but he was at the coffee shop every day of the past week. Even on the days when he was not scheduled to work, he stopped by to hang out with his friends. He did not just stand idly by; he also helped the friends who were working.

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Walmart workerBad jobs are usually defined as those with low pay, little autonomy, and few benefits. Add to the list irregular hours. As Steven Greenhouse describes in his New York Times article on the part-time labor force, workers today are suffering from erratic scheduling. In the service industry, employers routinely cut their hours or send them home early when customer traffic slows. On the flipside, workers are required to be on call or stay late during especially busy times. Erratic hours not only mean income insecurity, but also result in the inability to do anything else, like search for a second job or take a class.

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