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Consuming Work

Youth Labor in America

Yasemin Besen-Cassino

Publication Year: 2014

Youth labor is an important element in our modern economy, but as students’ consumption habits have changed, so too have their reasons for working. In Consuming Work, Yasemin Besen-Cassino reveals that many American high school and college students work for social reasons, not monetary gain. Most are affluent, suburban, white youth employed in part-time jobs at places like the Coffee Bean so they can be associated with a cool brand, hangout with their friends, and get discounts.
Consuming Work offers a fascinating picture of youth at work and how jobs are marketed to these students. Besen-Cassino also shows how the roots of gender and class inequality in the labor force have their beginnings in this critical labor sector.
Exploring the social meaning of youth at work, and providing critical insights into labor and the youth workforce, Consuming Work contributes a deeper understanding of the changing nature of American labor.

Published by: Temple University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. vii

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pp. ix-x

This book would not have materialized without the help and support of many family members, friends, and colleagues. The project took root during my graduate study years in the Department of Sociology at the State University of New York, Stony Brook. I thank Tim Moran, Naomi Rosenthal, and Nilufer Isvan, who read early versions of the manuscript and offered valuable...

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1. Consuming Work: Introduction to Youth Work in America

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pp. 1-22

On one snowy day in an affluent suburb of a major metropolitan area, a winter weather advisory was in effect. With low visibility and slippery roads, snow had taken over the suburbs. On this bitterly cold day, Josh,1 like many other teenagers, traveled many miles to get to work. Despite experiencing car troubles, nearly having a car accident, and spending hours in heavy...

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2. “Would You Like an Application with Your Coffee?”

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pp. 23-47

Right aft er he settled into his dorm room, Josh, a nineteen-year-old student, went into town to “shop for a job.” His rule was that if he liked to shop there, he would also like to work there. He walked around the college town, looking for stores where he shops. After a day of shopping for jobs, he walked into the coffee shop. As he was buying the coffee at the counter, he started chatting with...

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3. Fun or Exploitation? : The Lived Experience of Suburban Youth Work

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pp. 48-69

Jenny, a full-time college student, spoke these words to me as she emptied an overstuffed garbage bag at the end of her long shift. Like many young people, Jenny worked at the Coffee Bean after school. She commuted an hour and back every day to work, where she served endless lines of demanding customers, mopped floors, wiped tables...

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4. Pay or Play? : The Youth Labor Force in the United States and Other Industrialized Countries

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pp. 70-87

In When Teenagers Work (1986), the pioneering work on youth employment in the United States, Ellen Greenberger and Laurence Steinberg argue that working while still in school is exclusively an American practice: The student worker per se is a distinctly American phenomenon. In many countries of the western world, it is virtually unheard of for youngsters...

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5. “They Need Me Here”: Work as a Perceived Alternative to School

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pp. 88-106

John had been studying at the local state university for some time. Even though he kept changing his mind about his major, he was sure about his workplace. The Coffee Bean had been the constant in his life through changing majors, partners, and roommates. On the day of a blizzard, I ask him whether his school was in session...

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6. “White, Young, Middle Class”: Aesthetic Labor, Race, and Class in the Youth Labor Force

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pp. 107-121

People in the long line of customers who visited the Coffee Bean daily often noticed the young and vibrant composition of the workforce at the coffee shop. Linda, a middle-age regular customer, told me she really enjoyed the cool, hip, and young atmosphere of the coffee shop. Despite patronizing the coffee shop on a daily...

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7. Origins of the Gender Wage Gap: Gender Inequality in the Youth Labor Force

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pp. 122-143

Jules remembered that the sales crew of the high-end clothing store where she worked was dominated by women, while immigrant men cleaned up after store hours. Today, young people’s part-time jobs are practically synonymous with women. Parallel with the wider economy, retail and service sector positions...

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8. Conclusion: The Economic Recession and the Future of Youth Labor

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pp. 144-152

I began my examination of the current state of the American youth labor force by noting its unique composition. Contrary to romanticized images of poor students working to put themselves through school, the current and counterintuitive composition of the youth labor force is overwhelmingly dominated by affluent...

Appendix: Notes on Methodology

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pp. 153-162


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pp. 163-183


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pp. 185-188

E-ISBN-13: 9781439909508
E-ISBN-10: 1439909504
Print-ISBN-13: 9781439909492
Print-ISBN-10: 1439909490

Page Count: 232
Publication Year: 2014