For the next few minutes take a trip with me back through time itself, back before the iPhone, before the CD, the VHS recorder and even cable TV.
This was the analog world where I came of age as a teenager. It was a very different time from today. Every high school student took driver’s education and could not only name all of the parts that were under the hood of a car, but most could change the oil, tune the carburetor for maximum efficiency and put the correct amount of air in the tires.
We had but one TV and it was located in the living room. It was the dawn of color TV and the set was so big that it took two people to bring it into the house and had so many tubes that it would heat your entire house. We watched musical variety shows like “Ed Sullivan,” and dramas like “Have Gun Will Travel” along with “Bonanza” and comedies such as “I Love Lucy.”
This was my world growing up. If you are on Social Security today, it’s a world you remember. If you are a late Baby Boomer, it’s a world you can only imagine.
In my home, like many others, when the TV went out, there was near panic in the household. It could be compared to the Internet being down today.
As a high school student in Pacifica, a suburb of San Francisco, growing up in the ’50s I had the opportunity to take a multitude of elective classes. One was Radio Class. It was here that I learned about how to build and fix radios. These were not like today’s radios. They had big old vacuum tubes and, being AM radios, they would pick up stations from Mexico including that famous disc jockey, Wolfman Jack.
After a semester in radio class I decided to walk into Val-King TV, a local radio and TV repair shop in Pacifica, to see if it would take me on as an apprentice. I didn’t care what they could pay me, I just wanted the experience of working in a real TV shop and putting my Radio Class knowledge to work. The owner, Don King, said, “I can’t pay you much but you will learn a lot.”
And so it was for the last two years of high school, I worked in that shop after school and on Saturdays, learning how to repair radios and TVs. I learned enough to put myself through college and finally make a career out of what I was able to learn with that first apprentice job as a high school sophomore.
This experience was not unique to the kids of my generation. One of my best friends worked in an auto parts store. Another worked in his parents’ grocery store, another had a job in a local tire store. It was all possible because businesses were able to hire us, either on or off the books, because there was little government interference.
Today those experiences don’t exist for young people. They have no way to compete with adults who may just be starting out and making minimum wage. Unfortunately our kids are denied real work experience until they graduate from high school or college.
It’s time to give our kids a chance to discover the joys and challenges of working while they are teenagers.
Today there is a debate over the minimum wage for adults. Whatever the result, it will have no effect on our kids’ ability to get started in the world of work. They will still be denied a chance to jump into the job market.
It’s time to give our kids a chance at the world of work by creating a minimum wage for those under age 18 at half of whatever the minimum would be for adults, so if the minimum wage for an adult is $10 per hour, a teenager would be paid $5 per hour. In this way, we give our kids the various work experiences that we had.
I know it might be heresy to say it, but not every child needs a college education to succeed. They can be just as successful being a plumber, electrician, or cable TV technician. The problem is that they can’t take that first step because they are not allowed to gain the experience necessary to succeed.
Very shortly, California will be moving to start the minimum wage at $9 an hour. How about if we all advocate for a minimum wage at $4.50 per hour for our kids?
The one thing I have learned about teenagers is that they love to do things that improve their self esteem, their sense of self worth. Today they may find it in achievements in sports or some clubs and organizations, but that’s not for everyone. Let’s expand the opportunities for all of our kids by giving them the chance to explore the world of work early in life and give them an early opportunity to succeed. Sometimes all it takes is a letter or e-mail to Sacramento to get things started. Will you be the one to get the ball rolling?
Bob Berkowitz is a Crescent City resident and president of LifeStyles Research Co.