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Jobs Give Teen-Agers Grip on Reality of Dollar : And Suddenly, It's Not Play Money Anymore

June 12, 1986|MIKE WYMA | Wyma is a Toluca Lake free-lance writer

About 30 help-wanted listings were posted in a hallway at John F. Kennedy High School in Granada Hills one recent afternoon for jobs such as counter work at fast-food restaurants, baby-sitting and pumping gas.

Inside the office, Manuel Fernandez, work-experience coordinator at the school, took a long file tray from the top of his desk and rifled through the many slips. Each represented a student matched with a job, 337 in all.

"Most kids don't value money the way their parents do," he said. "But that doesn't mean kids today have it easy. They'll buy a car, but in many instances the car owns them. They overextend themselves."

The latest Cure album, a shopping trip to the Sherman Oaks Galleria, a night at the movies, maybe even a car--these are seen as necessities during teen-age years. But the money to pay for them doesn't necessarily come easily.

Chris McDaniel, a 17-year-old senior at Kennedy, is a salesman at Bullock's in the Northridge Fashion Center. As part of the store's training program, he also models clothes at fashion shows. McDaniel previously worked at Malibu Grand Prix in Northridge.

Learning to Save

"It seems that the money I make goes for gas and my phone bill," he said, "plus the little I save. But, when I first started working, I was 15, and I didn't save at all. When you're young and you see money, you spend it."

McDaniel, whose parents both have successful careers, said he has been learning the value of a dollar.

"I believe I'm spoiled," he readily conceded. "I didn't think that I was till I came to the public school system. The first nine years in private school, everyone was on the same social level. Now I've found that a lot of what I got from my parents, like a car when I was 15 and a trip to Europe, other people don't get."

But McDaniel said that enjoying the good life does not necessarily mean being lazy.

"I like money, without a doubt. When that paycheck started coming in, it felt good. But, even if I was financially set, I'd still work because I like it. I'd be bored otherwise."

Work is not optional for some high school students. Eleanor Torguson, coordinator of the First Break program in the Los Angeles Unified School District, said some teen-agers help support a family.

"We're not talking about youngsters who are hanging out down at the Galleria," she said. "If they didn't have this job, they wouldn't be able to stay in school. People think of the San Fernando Valley as being an affluent la-la land, but there's a lot of quiet poverty."

Torguson said the First Break program, which takes job offers from employers and routes them to high school work-experience offices, community colleges and school district occupational centers, expects to fill 11,000 openings this spring and summer.

"Fast-food firms are our biggest employers," she said, "with about 55% or 60% of the jobs. Then comes service industries, including places like Magic Mountain and the Universal Studios Tour. Someone who is bilingual and has good office skills can be placed pretty easily."

Spokesmen for the federal Department of Labor and the state Employment Development Department said no figures are available on the number of working teen-agers in the Valley. The 1980 census found that, of about 1.4 million employed persons in Los Angeles, 81,000 were 16 to 19 years old.

A check of a few large employers found a favorable outlook this year for summer jobs for teen-agers. A McDonald's representative said the fast-food giant is busy during the vacation months and has to replace older workers, particularly women with children, who take the summer off.

"It's true a lot of people start at minimum wage," the spokesman said, "but the first

review generally comes at 30 days. And the pay is generally higher in

low-unemployment areas. In most cases, there is at least a partial free meal."

Andree Grember of the Magic Mountain personnel office said the Valencia amusement park has been hiring 100 teen-agers a week and expects to continue through mid-August. "Gas is costing less, and people are staying in the country," she said. "That probably means more business for us."

Young people must be at least 16 to work at Magic Mountain, like most other work places. Grember said starting pay is $3.50 an hour. Benefits include one free pass to the park each month, discounts on additional passes and merchandise, and a free meal a day for food-service workers.

Coveted Guide Jobs

Most jobs at the Universal Studios Tour, where about 350 young people will be hired this summer, also start at $3.50 an hour, employment coordinator Carol Fisher said. Coveted jobs as tour guides pay $4.25. As at Magic Mountain, employees receive free tickets and discounts on merchandise.

Work-experience counselors at area high schools agree that, when a teen-ager doesn't work, the most likely reason is low starting pay rather than laziness on the youth's part or lack of jobs.

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