It’s the best time ever for young workers

Guest commentary

Michael Swickard, Ph.D.

© 2011

 Anyone who can walk to the welfare office can walk to work.  — Al Capp

Michael Swickard, Ph.D. is a radio talk show host, columnist and former educator.

At a fast food style restaurant I had a nodding relationship with the young fellow behind the counter. We would each say, “Howdy.” Last week he ventured an observation, “You sure were lucky to be young when it was still possible to become wealthy.”

He said it like, “Nice weather… how about those Aggies… whatcha want?” I was startled by the notion that I grew up in a better time. Truth is: I only went to school because I was physically placed on a school bus with instructions to not hit anyone. For the record, I only hit back but the second kid is usually the one caught so I was typecast. I was also typecast as a kid who could not wait to get away from school. This they got right.

I was born in 1950 and this fellow behind the counter was born in 1990. Without a doubt they were different societies. In school I practiced the “Atomic bomb attack drill” and he has to worry about getting a bad case of “Texting thumb.”

Growing up there were no seat belts in our cars. Also, my father smoked all of the time, and we did not think about second-hand smoke. We kids did not wear bicycle helmets and my school lunch was usually a potted meat sandwich I brought from home wrapped in waxed paper.

Even more different, I got my first firearm at age 6 and still have it; a three-quarter size .22 designed by the legendary Arthur P. Curtis. It was just the right size for a young boy. By age 12 I could drive many of the trucks, tractors and cars out at the ranch and did so on our private land. While growing up I was not thought to be college material and was set to skip college, but my grandmother fought all of us to a standstill, so I went and found an academic life.

Today all public school children are considered college material and very few young ones drive tractors, trucks and work on a ranch. However, this young man seems industrious enough to me. He comes to work regularly and stays busy without the boss having to keep an eye on him. Other than that I know nothing about him other than he mistakenly thinks I am wealthy because I tip well.

“Heck no,” I said, “Today is the best time ever to be young and going into the job market.” I said this with a convincing nod of my head like everyone knows today is a better time to make your wealth than in the past. He was incredulous. “How so?”

I stumbled into a great insight that I wish I could say I had planned in advance but our conversation was all that was keeping me from my coffee and bagel so I just fired away. “You see,” I said, knowing he did not, “I grew up with a lot of other young people who were just like me.

“Each of us worked all the time and we were in a hurry to make some money and move away from home. In the non-skilled job market I had lots of competition for even entry jobs. The boss did not tolerate slackers so we had to do well or we were quickly replaced.”

Then I dropped the bomb on him, “But most of your same age contemporaries have not even had a job yet. Most are standing around waiting for a handout. They think that money flows to them for just being alive and having needs. Most are not out beating the bushes for a job. You are an exception in your generation.

“Employers are caught with a generation of workers who first want to know how much holiday time off they get and then will talk about perhaps coming to work. But you work hard every day and I know so because I see you do it. Your buddies are exercising their thumbs texting and complaining the government is just not giving them everything they desire.

“You are going into the workforce with significantly less competition, and you have the work habits of a hard worker. So tell me my young friend, who is going to get rich, the ones waiting for a handout or you who knows how to work hard?”

He absorbed the thought quickly. That set him up for the rest of the time I was there. It was like he had won the lottery. I added quickly that I did not mean he was going to be wealthy within the week, rather, by coming to work on time and working hard he has put himself into a pool of candidates for the next higher job and the next higher job. He will rise in just a few years with his pragmatic understanding of working hard.

I have worried about this generation of young people who do not seem to work hard for their money. But there are some young people, like this young man, who have the work ethic and so will prosper. That is as long as we do not redistribute the wealth this young person creates to those who are sitting around just waiting for a handout.

This is a great time to become wealthy simply by working hard.

Dr. Michael Swickard is co-host of radio talk show News New Mexico 6 to 9 a.m. Monday – Friday on a number of New Mexico radio stations and through streaming. Email:



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