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Consuming Work

Consuming Work: Youth Labor in America

Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Consuming Work
    Book Description:

    Youth labor is an important element in our modern economy, but as students' consumption habits have changed, so too have their reasons for working. InConsuming Work, Yasemin Besen-Cassino reveals that many American high school and college students work for social reasons, not monetary gain. Most are affluent, suburban, white youth employed in part-time jobs at places like the Coffee Bean so they can be associated with a cool brand, hangout with their friends, and get discounts.

    Consuming Workoffers a fascinating picture of youth at work and how jobs are marketed to these students. Besen-Cassino also shows how the roots of gender and class inequality in the labor force have their beginnings in this critical labor sector.

    Exploring the social meaning of youth at work, and providing critical insights into labor and the youth workforce,Consuming Workcontributes a deeper understanding of the changing nature of American labor.

    eISBN: 978-1-4399-0950-8
    Subjects: Sociology, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. 1 Consuming Work: Introduction to Youth Work in America
    (pp. 1-22)

    On one snowy day in an affluent suburb of a major metropolitan area, a winter weather advisory was in effect. With low visibility and slippery roads, snow had taken over the suburbs. On this bitterly cold day, Josh,¹ like many other teenagers, traveled many miles to get to work. Despite experiencing car troubles, nearly having a car accident, and spending hours in heavy traffic, he arrived at the coffee shop where he works part-time 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 shivering...

  5. 2 “Would You Like an Application with Your Coffee?”
    (pp. 23-47)

    Right after he settled into his dorm room, Josh, a nineteen-year-old student, went into town to “shop for a job.” His rule was that if he liked to shop there, he would also like to work there. He walked around the college town, looking for stores where he shops. After a day of shopping for jobs, he walked into the coffee shop. As he was buying the coffee at the counter, he started chatting with Jenna, the shift manager. Jenna, like Josh, was a nineteen-year-old college student; they even went to the same school. After chatting for a few hours,...

  6. 3 Fun or Exploitation? The Lived Experience of Suburban Youth Work
    (pp. 48-69)

    Jenny, a full-time college student, spoke these words to me as she emptied an overstuffed garbage bag at the end of her long shift. Like many young people, Jenny worked at the Coffee Bean after school. She commuted an hour and back every day to work, where she served endless lines of demanding customers, mopped floors, wiped tables, and carried out loads of garbage. In her typical shift, she was asked to follow a detailed script and perform every task according to the “manual.” She did all this work for low pay and no benefits.

    From the outside, many observers...

  7. 4 Pay or Play? The Youth Labor Force in the United States and Other Industrialized Countries
    (pp. 70-87)

    In WhenTeenagers Work(1986), the pioneering work on youth employment in the United States, Ellen Greenberger and Laurence Stein-berg argue that working while still in school is exclusively an American practice:

    The student worker perse is a distinctly American phenomenon. In many countries of the western world, it is virtually unheard of for youngsters to participate intensively in the labor force while still in school. The reasons why American teenagers are flocking to the workplace are embedded in events that have taken place in school, the family, and the economy—and in the motives, values, and aspirations of young...

  8. 5 “They Need Me Here”: Work as a Perceived Alternative to School
    (pp. 88-106)

    John had been studying at the local state university for some time. Even though he kept changing his mind about his major, he was sure about his workplace. The Coffee Bean had been the constant in his life through changing majors, partners, and roommates. On the day of a blizzard, I ask him whether his school was in session. “Oh, yes,” he told me. In fact, he had a class that afternoon, but instead of going to class, he chose to come to the coffee shop. He even stayed longer to help his friends in the later shift s and...

  9. 6 “White, Young, Middle Class”: Aesthetic Labor, Race, and Class in the Youth Labor Force
    (pp. 107-121)

    People in the long line of customers who visited the Coffee Bean daily often noticed the young and vibrant composition of the workforce at the coffee shop. Linda, a middle-age regular customer, told me she really enjoyed the cool, hip, and young atmosphere of the coffee shop. Despite patronizing the coffee shop on a daily basis, many customers failed to also recognize the racial and ethnic composition of the contemporary workforce. Yet the majority of the young people I spoke with were well-aware of the racial and economic inequalities that plague the youth labor force. Bobby, a twenty-year-old male liberal...

  10. 7 Origins of the Gender Wage Gap: Gender Inequality in the Youth Labor Force
    (pp. 122-143)

    Jules remembered that the sales crew of the high-end clothing store where she worked was dominated by women, while immigrant men cleaned up after store hours. Today, young people’s part-time jobs are practically synonymous with women. Parallel with the wider economy, retail and service sector positions are typically occupied by women (Mason and Osborne 2008; Roberts 2011; Skill smart 2007). In fact, the youth labor market often appears as a democratic arena, offering abundant positions for women. Many young men who look for such retail and service positions are seen as the “lost boys” (Roberts 2011).

    Despite the widespread racial...

  11. 8 Conclusion: The Economic Recession and the Future of Youth Labor
    (pp. 144-152)

    I began my examination of the current state of the American youth labor force by noting its unique composition. Contrary to romanticized images of poor students working to put themselves through school, the current and counter intuitive composition of the youth labor force is overwhelmingly dominated by affluent students. Unfortunately, many traditional accounts consider “youth” and the “youth labor force” as monolithic categories, without real inner differences. This book explores the inner differences among the student employees in the United States—showing two distinct populations: affluent students and poor dropouts. Lower-income dropouts’ decision to work is not surprising, but affluent...

  12. APPENDIX: Notes on Methodology
    (pp. 153-162)
  13. References
    (pp. 163-184)
  14. Index
    (pp. 185-188)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 189-189)