Child Labor – we need more in Fresno!

  • By: Al Smith, Fresno Chamber of Commerce President and CEO


I was having lunch with local business and civic leader DeWayne Zinkin the other day at one of our favorite eateries, the Lime Lite and we got to talking about what we did as kids.  For those of you who don’t know, DeWayne’s father, Harold Zinkin was a champion body builder, the first Mr.California, and became very successful in the body building business after developing a highly innovative Universal Gym machine.


DeWayne mentioned that as he was growing up, his father required him to work in the family’s health club business as early as eight years of age, something which continued throughout his teen years.  He worked after school and on Saturdays while continuing his education and participating in school sports.  He remembered his Dad saying, “I’ll never give you any money, but you’re free to work as many hours as you can, to make as much money as you need.”


We compared notes.  I had my first paper route at eleven ( I lied about my age – you were suppose to be at least twelve); washed cars, sold clothes, poured concrete and worked as a projectionist at a drive-in movie all the while going to school and playing sports.  When I went to college, I became a short order cook and part-time radio announcer between classes just to make enough money to take the girls out.  My parents helped with an allowance.  They sent me $2 a week.  Heck, back then I smoked $3 a week in cigarettes.


All of this brings up a point.


One of the biggest complaints I hear from employers today is the work ethic of current employees.  They don’t seem to come into the workforce with previously learned disciplines or an appreciation of striving for success.  There is a sense of entitlement – an attitude of “you’re just lucky that I work for you.”


As DeWayne and I were finishing our meal, it dawned on us that many of today’s youth don’t get their very first job until after they graduate from college.  That means the first paycheck they ever receive is when they are around 22 years old.  Up to that point, they have had no experience in workforce preparation except what they read in books.


Now, it is nice that today’s families seem to be more involved with their children than previous generations. Each day and every weekend, moms and dads along with the entire brood are rushing to soccer, dance lessons, karate, band, baseball – you name it.  Every moment of every day is either school or extra-curricular activities.  It is great for family bonding and that’s to be applauded.


But one can’t help but worry that kids today might be missing out on necessary preparation for requirements later in life. Odds are, most won’t be dancing; doing karate or playing the drums when they are married with our own kettle of kids. They will need to work for a living.


The nation’s media was shocked when a Presidential candidate suggested that students from poorer families might earn extra money by working at maintaining their schools.  I am still trying to figure out what was wrong with that.  Working to improve your station and financial status is what our great country was built on.


Early job training develops better workers, which develops more success in business, which earns more money which increases economic vitality.  As Zinkin said, it taught him “responsibility; the value of a dollar; a feeling of contributing and a greater reward both internally and monetarily.”


I couldn’t agree more.  Maybe if we had a little more child labor everyone would benefit.


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