DC teens explore local job market


Creative Commons

We all know that sometimes DC plays by different rules, and the youth workforce is one of the clearest examples of it. In DC, it can be hard for teens to find employment, with many establishments having a full staff and the applications tending to ask for an amount of experience difficult for a 14-year-old to have while entering the job search.

Some places will hire you, but have unfeasible requirements for a high schooler. Flippin’ Pizza in DuPont circle has a standard application, and not-so-standard follow up questions: can you work until 3 a.m.? Do you have three years of experience with (insert extremely niche cash register of your choice)? It’s very unlikely to receive an answer from the business quickly, or ever.

Sometimes it does feel as though the system is set against teenagers trying to get part-time jobs that won’t wear them down or force them to work unsuitable hours. Plus, The dream of working in a sunny coffee shop or a used bookstore is quickly fading.

As more appealing options disappear, more and more teens are moving toward the fast-food chains near them. They’re respectable, straightforward jobs at their surface, but underneath, there’s a problem: large businesses, like fast-food chains, are rarely as relaxed as small, locally owned places, and many teens find themselves struggling under the strict rule.  

Junior Keymiah Armstrong, who has worked at the Chick-fil-A in Tenleytown since August, gives it mixed reviews. “They won’t let me have my hair green, and they’re making me change the dyed hair I used for these braids,” she said, gesturing to a braid with a streak of purple in it. The pay is decent, but Armstrong finds management frustrating and inflexible. Unfortunately, this is common at chain restaurants, where managers follow predetermined rules written by companies who sometimes seem to put more of a focus on efficiency than other aspects of the job.

Some students are able to find comfortable jobs in small businesses, like senior Amira Almusawi, who works as a waitress at Arcuri, a local restaurant. “My experience has overall… been pretty great,” she said. “It’s a neighborhood restaurant so the people are all pretty nice.” She makes three dollars an hour, the rest in tips, and is satisfied with her wage.

Also common is the story of the student who finds a different, less structured way to make money in high school. Sites like Poshmark and Depop, which resemble Instagram in their layout, allow anyone to sell anything from platform boots to succulents to artisanal wooden salad bowls. Junior Alaia Lee has frequently used the sites to buy and sell clothes. “It’s really convenient because you can buy directly from people and sell from wherever, as long as you ship your stuff out at a reasonable time,” she said. Both sites allow you to charge for shipping, which can add up to a significant profit.

Other students, like junior Amanda Lugo, put their artistic skills to work in the job hunt. In Lugo’s case, as a photographer and editor. She mostly covers sports when she’s shooting on her own for the school, but she also edits her clients’ material.

“Most of my work is from editing photos and videos they have already shot, and creating and editing presentations [for classes]. The second most common request is people asking me to shoot their ideas and edit.” Lugo, who has thrived in her mass media class, decided to put the skills she learned there to work six months ago, and makes between $20 and $75 on small projects, and an average of $400 for long-term work. She calls the experience educational because she has had to learn to deal with clients and meet deadlines.

What’s clear is that teenagers have always found ways of making money while in high school, even as the standard job prospects have gotten slimmer. Students who are largely in control of their schedules, whether it is because they are their own bosses, or work under very flexible small businesses, find work to be not simply another added chore, but a learning experience.