BOYS IN SEARCH OF JOBS
BY RAYMOND G. FULLER
One morning lately, if you had stood on Kneeland street in sight of the
entrance of the State Free Employment Office, you would have seen a long
line of boys--a hundred of them--waiting for the doors to open. They
were of all sorts of racial extraction and of ages ranging through most
of the teens. Some you would have called ragamuffins, street urch
but some were too well washed, combed and laundered for such a
designation. Some were eagerly waiting, some anxiously, some
indifferently. Some wore sober faces; some were standing soldierly
stiff; but others were bubbling over with the spirits of their age,
gossiping, shouting, indulging in colt-play. When they came out, some
hustled away to prospective employers and others loitered in the street.
Disappointment was written all over some of them, from face to feet; on
others the inscription was, "I don't care."
Two hundred boys applied for "jobs" at the employment office that day.
Half the number were looking for summer positions. Others were of the
vast army of boys who quit school for keeps at the eighth or ninth grade
or thereabouts. Several weeks before school closed the office had more
than enough boy "jobs" to go around. With the coming of vacation time
the ratio was reversed. The boy applicants were a hundred or two hundred
daily. For the two hundred on the day mentioned there were fifty places.
Says Mr. Deady, who has charge of the department for male minors:
"Ranging from fourteen to nineteen years of age, of all nationalities
and beliefs, fresh from the influence of questionable home environment,
boisterous and brimful of animation, without ideas and thoughtless to a
marked degree--this is the picture of the ordinary boy who is in search
of employment. He is without a care and his only thought, if he has one,
is to obtain as high a wage as possible. It is safe to say that of the
thousands of boys who apply annually at the employment office,
two-thirds are between sixteen and eighteen years of age. Before going
further, we can safely say that twenty per cent of the youngest lads
have left school only a few weeks before applying for work.
Approximately sixty per cent have not completed a course in the
elementary grammar schools."
The boy of foreign parentage seems to be more in earnest, more
ambitious, than the American boy (not to quibble over the definition of
the adjective "American"). Walter L. Sears, superintendent of the office
in Kneeland street, tells this story:
An American youngster came in.
"Gotta job?" he asked.
"Yes, here is one"--referring to the card records--"in a printing
office; four dollars a week."
"'Taint enough money. Got anything else?"
"Here's a place in a grocery store--six dollars a week."
"What time d'ye have to get to work in the morning?"
"Got anything else?"
"Here's something--errand boy--six a week, mornings at eight."
"Saturday afternoons off?"
"Nothing is said about it."
"W-ell-l, maybe I'll drop around and look at it."
An Italian boy came in, looking for work. He was told of the printing
"All right. I'll take it."
For what it is worth, it may be set down that a large proportion of the
boy applicants carefully scrutinize the dollar sign when they talk
wages. Moreover, they are not unacquainted with that phrase concocted by
those higher up, "the high cost of living." The compulsion of the thing,
or the appeal of the phrase--which?
The youthful unemployed, those who seek employment, would cast a
good-sized vote in favor of "shoffer." A youngster comes to Mr. Sears.
He wants to be a "shoffer."
"Why do you want to be a chauffeur?"
"I don't know."
"Haven't you any reasons at all?"
"Isn't it because you have many times seen the man at the wheel rounding
a corner in an automobile at a 2.40 clip and sailing down the boulevard
at sixty miles an hour?"
The boy's eyes light up with the picture.
"Isn't that it?"
And the boy's eyes light up with discovery.
"Yes, I guess so."
"Well, have you ever seen the chauffeur at night, after being out all
day with the car? Overalls on, sleeves rolled up, face streaming with
perspiration? Repairing the mechanism, polishing the brass? Tired to
The boy applicants seldom have any clear idea of the ultimate prospects
in any line of work they may have in mind--as to the salary limit for
the most expert, or the opportunities for promotion and the securing of
an independent position. Many of them have no preconceived idea even of
what they want to do, to say nothing of what they ought to do.
Here is an instance.
"I want a position," says a boy.
"What kind of a position?"
"I don't know."
"Haven't you ever thought about it?"
"Haven't you ever talked it over at home or at school?"
"Would you like to be a machinist?"
"I don't know."
"Would you like to be a plumber?"
"I don't know."
Similar questions, with similar answers, continue. Finally:
"Would you like to be a doctor?"
"I don't know--is that a good position?"
Sometimes a boy is accompanied to the office by his father.
"My son is a natural-born electrician," the father boasts.
"What has he done to show that?"
"Why, he's wired the whole house from top to bottom."
It is found by further questions that the lad has installed a push-bell
button at the front door and another at the back door. He had bought dry
batteries, wire and buttons at a hardware store in a box containing full
directions. It is nevertheless hard to convince the father that the boy
may not be a natural-born electrician, after all.
In frequent cases the father has not considered the limitations and
opportunities in the occupation which he chooses for his son.
Mr. Deady has this to say on the subject of the father's relation to the
boy's "job": "The average boy while seeking employment in ninety-nine
cases out of a hundred is unaccompanied by either parent. Such a
condition is deplorable. It not only shows a lack of interest in the
boy's welfare on the part of the parents, but also places the youthful
applicant in an unfair position. Oftentimes, owing to inexperience, a
boy accepts a position without inquiring into the details and nature of
the same. His main thought is the amount of the wage to be received.
Consequently there is but one obvious result. The hours are excessive,
the work is beyond the boy's strength or is hazardous, and finally the
lad withdraws without notice. It is this general apathy on the part of
the parents of a boy, combined with over-zealousness on the part of an
ordinary employer to secure boy labor for a mere trifle, that accounts
for the instability of juvenile labor."
The coming of vacation invariably brings a great influx of boys to the
State employment office, some looking for summer work, others for
permanent employment. Most of them show lack of intelligent
constructive thought on the matter in hand. Few of them have had any
counsel, or any valuable counsel from their parents or others. To Mr.
Sears and his assistants--and they have become very proficient at it--is
left the task of vocational guidance, within such limitations as those
of time and equipment. What can be done to get the boy and his sponsors
to thinking intelligently about the question of an occupation for the
boy, with proper regard to their mutual fitness?
Superintendent Sears has some suggestions to offer. In his opinion the
subject of occupational choice should be debated thoroughly in the
public schools. He favors the introduction of some plan embodying this
idea in the upper grades of the grammar school, under conditions that
would give each boy an opportunity to talk, and that would encourage him
to consult his parents and teachers. The debates might be held monthly,
and preparation should be required. Experts or successful men in various
occupations might be called in to address the pupils and furnish
authoritative information. The questions debated should involve the
advisability of learning a trade and the choice of a trade, and the same
considerations with respect to the professions, the mercantile pursuits,
and so on. The pupils should be allowed to vote on the merits of each
question debated. By such a method, thinks Mr. Sears, the boys would
gain the valuable training which debating gives, would devote
considerable thought to the question of their future employment, would
acquire much information, and would get their parents more interested in
the matter than many of them are.
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