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Fidgety, bored, undisciplined kids—how about putting them back to productive work? Not in mills or mines, mind you--just the sort of jobs teenagers used to work outside of school to earn pocket money. The question is raised by Fran Abrams for the BBC.

A survey of local authorities by the BBC has revealed that recently the number of children licensed to do part-time jobs has dropped dramatically. ... The figures showed that while 50,000 13-15 year-olds were licensed to work ... [part-time] in 2004, by 2009 the number had fallen to 30,500 - a drop of almost 40%. ... Official statistics from the Labour Force Survey, showing the proportion of 16 and 17 year-olds who had part-time jobs while still at school or college full-time, showed a similar trend.

Abrams is, of course, discussing British numbers, but the argument in general may resonate with those in the U.S., particularly given the current media obsession with generational trends in work and character. Though the declining number of teens working may be partly a matter of the economy or school hours, "some experts argued there had been a more fundamental shift in attitudes towards childhood." It could be the "increased pressure of school work," but economic historian Jane Humphries suspects a different trend:

Children today are priceless possessions whose wants and needs are attended to. Because they can obtain pocket money from parents, they can by and large enjoy drifting around in society. You have to actually exercise some responsibility and initiative in order to get a job.

Might teenagers actually enjoy the "freedom" and learn from the responsibility that part-time jobs bring?

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.

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