Are kids more economically literate than adults: Snow Day edition

Another winter, another massive snowstorm, another six-figure salaried pundit screaming “kids these days” because they would rather play videogames than shovel driveways for five dollars an hour. There are also facebook viral meme’s plastering my Facebook wall about how kids would rather sit inside the warm of their houses and play videogames instead of going out and hustling for poorly paid shoveling gigs.

Kevin Drum argues that the lack of snow shoveling by today’s youngsters is a matter of economics, mainly inflation. Drum’s argument is that wages for shoveling snow have basically remained flat but the costs of things kids like to spend money on have gone up. Adults are caught in a haze of nostalgia where coke and comic books cost a dime to a quarter and there were no 50 dollar video games. According to my friends with kids, there are also arguments about why babysitters cost so much so even relatively young thirty-somethings are not immune from a wall that prevents them from recognizing inflation. Though the rise of fancy babysitters might have something to do with the cost.

Drum’s argument strikes me as basically right. Kids know the cost of things they like and they realize that they are not going to get them for back-breaking labor at around $1.66 an hour (according to Drum’s calculations).

This raises other questions: Do adults not realize that inflation happen? Do adults have other reasons for wanting kids to do tough labor at low pay? Some thoughts:

1. People seem immune to recognizing inflation. I don’t know if this economic illiteracy, basic psychology, or both. This goes to more things than kids not wanting to shovel snow. I also have friends from high school who post nostalgically with updates like “Do you remember when tickets to concerts cost 12.50?” while posting a stub they found in a long-forgotten pocket from a concert in 1994.

2. Kids are not out shoveling snow because of different reasons: A friend of mine on facebook with young children said that the real reason kids don’t knock on doors is because of stranger danger. Now stranger danger probably has led to serious changes in having kids out and about without adult supervision but I doubt it is the whole story. It is also probably relative based on location. This goes back to #1 and a refusal to acknowledge inflation is a thing though.

3. Adults sometimes or often need to work at levels below what they think they are worth (accurately or not) and we are bitter people and want kids to learn this lesson early. This will be disguised in statements on hustle and drive and initiative.

4. This is a classic labor dispute writ small. Adults are the managers, kids are the employees. There is a fight over value and the kids have basically declared a general strike until things are changed.

5. A lot of adults might not be able to pay a market rate. Just like the well-paying entry level jobs go to a select few from the best schools, kids who live in tonier neighborhoods probably have a better chance of getting paid market rate. One friend from high school said that he was able to clear 1500 a winter shoveling snow during the 1990s because the going rate in our upper-middle class suburb was 50 dollars a house. This would seemingly be the equivalent of the kids who go to HYPS getting six-figure jobs at 22 or 25, while almost everyone else gets far from it.

6. Whatever else you can think of!

There are is probably not going to be a lot of consensus on this debate. Adults are going to insist on kids lacking drive and fewer kids will probably shovel in the future. I am just largely amused that kids seem more economically literate than adults and more willing to refuse work for better pay.

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58 thoughts on “Are kids more economically literate than adults: Snow Day edition

  1. I’d say #3 is getting closest to the truth. Snow shoveling money (or lawn mowing, etc) is luxury money for teenagers. They’re not generally having to pay rent or buy groceries. So you get a pretty decent economic calculus weighing the value of the luxury goods they can purchase with that cash versus the very tangible luxury of not having to freeze your ass off shoveling snow. And yes, the relative stagnation of the wage rates for such work versus the price inflation for other luxury goods surely affects the calculation.

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  2. Culture almost certainly plays a large role: if your expectation is to be outside doing things on your own anyway, why not try to make a buck while you’re at it? If your expectation is to be kept under supervision, probably inside, why would you be eager to go out and work for a pittance?

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  3. When we shoveled snow as kids the money was a big treat. We would shovel a house or two then go play in the snow and spend our money on candy or food. Three or four of us would go out so we could get the driveways shoveled pretty quick. My guess is the adults who paid us were acting out of their own lack of desire to shovel AND just being nice to us to let us make a few bucks.

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  4. Videogames have always, always been really expensive things. That’s why they came with zorkmids, after all. $50 videogames were common even in the early days of computing (although I imagine “write the code into the computer yourself” magazines were cheaper than $50 a pop).

    Payment for kids’ work has ALWAYS been peanuts. This is mostly because you’re shoveling elderly people’s walks,and they don’t have the money and at any rate, feel like they’re the only people having to deal with inflation. In fact, I’m nearly certain payments for kids have gone up (vis inflation) since I was a kid… That has to do with breakpoints, mostly. a $10 job becomes a $20 job a lot easier than it becomes a $12 job…

    Mostly, you want to know the real truth? It’s that we spoil the kids these days. The boomers got spoiled, and they spoiled their kids even worse. If you don’t NEED money, why in hell are you going outside to shovel (playing in the snow is fun, kids! enjoy it!)???

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  5. Random thoughts…

    There’s the matter of quality control. I once paid a couple of the neighborhood kids to shovel my driveway and walk, negotiating some basic quality (eg, they would clear all the surfaces, they would throw the snow far enough out that there was room to put the snow from the next storm forecast to roll through in a couple of days). They did a crappy job, and spent another 20 minutes finishing while I stood in the cold and glared at them. Next storm, they stopped at some of the neighbors’ doors, but not mine.

    I’m curious about how much of the discretionary things that kids these days want are software and data. Mom and Dad are probably going to buy the hardware — am I wrong in assuming that most kids big enough to shovel who live in neighborhoods where there’s an opportunity to shovel have some sort of computer of their own, and internet access, paid for by Mom and Dad? One of the things I am constantly surprised at is just how easy it is to get pirated software and data. If you even need to go that far — how many of those kids can’t log on to Mom and Dad’s Netflix account?

    This is related to why I’ve said for many years that judging piracy rates by what happens in college dorms has always been a terrible measure. Even 20-some years ago when I started saying it, those kids were in the situation of having far more processing power, storage, and bandwidth than they could afford on their own — plus time. That situation has just shifted down the age brackets.

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  6. Back in the 80s when I shoveled snow I was getting 10 bucks a pop. Regardless, some parents “back in the day” didn’t give kids an option of playing video games or watching tv all day. They were told to get out of the house. Amazingly they did!

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  7. I cleared driveways in the early 90’s for $20 a driveway. I was willing to negotiate down to $15 but that’s because I knew that it would result in the person giving me $15 for the driveway and a $5 tip.

    I usually stopped somewhere around $120.

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    • FWIW, I’ll pay kids about $30 to shovel our driveway and sidewalk if they volunteer. Usually they do an OK job, and I think it’s definitely worth that much to be the one who gets to sit on a comfy couch in a warm house and play video games.

      That’s just under $19 in 1995 dollars. I’m getting a good deal!

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  8. Whatever the actual psychological reasons, hopefully the adults can at least agree that when they say, “But I did this for $X when I was your age!” they should be using adjusted dollars. Hopefully. But probably not.

    In my experience, most of these disagreements really do boil down to real vs nominal dollars. It would be surprising if, once you made the correction, modern kids were getting paid significantly more for kid jobs. Most of the things kids do are low-skill jobs. Those types of jobs typically don’t see wage increases over time. Unless something peculiar is happening (e.g. more square footage of snowy driveway per kid), I’d expect those types of wages to generally stay stagnant or decline with increased automation.

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  9. Can I just point out what the comments on that article pointed out, but no one here mentioned?

    This article is specifically about the lack of kids shoveling snow after the recent *blizzard*.

    We’re talking 3 feet of snow, as the article itself actually says.

    And this article is talking about how she couldn’t get *her kids*, aged 9 and 11, out shoveling driveways. Yes, she wanders into talking about how no one seems to be doing it, but her example is her kids.

    ?!?!

    Two children, aged 9 and 11, cannot shovel a driveway of three feet of snow. If they can, we are talking literally an all-day process.

    For which they have been taught that they will get $5.

    A day of backbreaking labor for $5? In freezing temps? Sign me up!

    Jesus Christ, this columnist is a moron.

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  10. It also depends on the amount of snow. The past North Eastern snowstorm was immense in many places. I have friends who took four or five hours just to get their car free from the snow let alone anything else. That’s a lot of snow from kids, especially if they are in elementary or middle school. Shoveling snow after the recent storm is really heavy labor as opposed to a lighter storm. In the suburbs, kids are also facing competition from neighborhood adults who would do work for free because they want to use their fancy gadgets.

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  11. And actually, let’s think about this a bit more. What, exactly, is going on here?

    Children find it hard to earn money, because people will not (and it’s illegal) to hire them for real jobs.

    So, instead, they should work *really shitty* jobs?

    Now, *my* position is that children should not have to work a job. So I have no problem with them not legally being able to get a real job, or with a few of them *voluntarily* doing random things to earn some extra money. (In fact, as my major concern is ‘kids having to work to supplement their family’s income’, I’d rather it be parents saying ‘You clear off the neighbor’s driveway, and *we’ll* pay you some extra cash.’.)

    This writer, however, seems to think that children *should* have to work, that they should be out there earning some money. That is what she claims. Let’s just put any discussion of the morality of this idea to the side, and assume the kindest possible interpretation, that she means parents pay for necessities, but children should have to earn most of their own spending money, and they get to keep the money.

    Is she in favor of actually *allowing* this to happen, via making various forms of child labor legal, perhaps with a lot of protections (Which is currently not legal for the ages she is talking about.)…or is she in favor of almost all avenues of child income being closed off so the only place children *can* work is, essentially, as very very poorly paid manual laborers?

    Working for *her*.

    Hrm….I think that question just answered itself.

    So, leaving the whole ‘child’ thing out of it for a second: She literally wants, when you piece together what she’s actually said, a bunch of people who are (or at least feel) obligated to work, and yet have no possible place to work except for her *absurdly* low wages. Way, way, way below minimum wage.

    And she’s upset that they *don’t* feel obligated to work for said wages.

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  12. There’s also the snowblower effect: in neighborhoods where people could pay a decent going rate for having kids shovel, most folks have snowblowers. While you might pay someone to run the blower for you, it would have to be an older teen (too much potential for a kid to do something dumb and mangle a hand if the thing gets clogged).

    On top of that, in areas where you get at least a couple good snow dumps a year, a lot of folks have the number of someone with a plow on the front of their truck who will come and clear the driveway for ~$30. Now an enterprising 16+ kid could do this job, but they’d either need parents with the truck+plow or have the cash to invest in buying it themselves. That leaves only shoveling sidewalks as an option for younger kids, provided they live somewhere that has sidewalks (my neighborhood doesn’t and the closest one that does is farther away than I’d let a younger kid walk in icy/snow conditions).

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  13. Are we even sure things are different nowadays? Growing up (80s/90s), you had a handful of teenagers out shoveling snow for money, but it was far from the norm.

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    • Some people’s have replaced their memories of childhood with the memories of the TV shows they were watching as children.

      But yeah, I lived in a city until I was 10 in a city that gets 100 inches of snow a year regularly. You might have a couple kids out shoveling their driveway that isn’t their own, but that’s it.

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      • Some people’s have replaced their memories of childhood with the memories of the TV shows they were watching as children.

        Man, it’s even worse than that.

        TV shows generally are one generation out of step when showing young people, because writers write *their own* childhood experiences.

        But we’re actually a bit past that.

        The columnist had children a decade ago, which means she is most likely 30-45, aka, the age range that I am exactly in the middle of.

        Even if she’s remembering what she saw on TV…the childhoods she saw on TV growing up were the *Simpsons*. (Which is, in turn, a written by a rebellious ex-hippy-generation guy.) Or Saved by the Bell. (A TV show which is as 80s as humanly possible while actually being set in the 90s.)

        She might be imagining some Leave It to Beaver thing where the whole neighborhood wanders door to door asking for a nickel to sweep the path, but it’s not from what used to be on her TV…or if it was, it was literally Leave It to Beaver in reruns, not something presented as ‘modern’.

        At this point, we’ve got a bunch of people convinced that they remember growing up in the 50s when their *parents* barely were alive in the fifties!

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        • I was born in 1966. My parents, 1928 and 1935. As far as I know, all four grandparents were in the 19th century, including one in 1888 (before the state he would emigrate to was even a state) – despite the obvious odds against it, he lived to see me in college.

          I figure we provide some counterbalance for the families where a generation is 15 years…

          In any case, yeah – these cultural artifacts aren’t even from my generation. They are the ones I grew up with, which means they were already obsolete.

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          • I was born in 1980 and three out of my four grandparents were born before 1920. My two grandfathers were born before World War I started. It always freaked me out to meet people ten or more years older than me whose great-grandparents were born during the 1920s.

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            • That’s really interesting. All my grandparents were born before WWI, and 2 were born much earlier, in the 1890s (I was born in 1973). One even served in WWI, but he passed away about 8 years before I was born. It would have been really interesting to hear about his and his wife’s (my grandmother’s) experiences. I mean, they probably had firsthand memories Teddy Roosevelt being president.

              My mom, who was born in 1933, is now a great grandmother to about 10 or so (I’ve lost count) kids. I am, weirdly, a “great uncle” (or “grand uncle”?) to them….not that there’s anything great about my uncleship. My mom’s sister was born in 1922, and she had really interesting stories.

              But yeah, like you and El Muneco, the short generation cycles take me some getting used to. My eldest sister, who is 52, is now a grandmother and is only about 40 years older than her eldest grandchild.

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    • Of course things are the same. Some neighborhoods have groups of kids that do that, some do not. It depends on a bunch of things, including sheer random chance.

      That’s how complaining about ‘kids these days’ *works*. It’s how it has always worked. People just complain about things that are exactly the same, or vary only in the technology, or the slang, or whatever. It is almost always complete and utter gibberish.

      Now, there are actual sociological differences in how each ‘generation’ behaves. (Or, rather, society changes over time, and the youngest people are the most malleable.)

      But the people who write articles like this are so completely unobservant (E.g., she didn’t notice that rational adults don’t think working an entire day for $10 is a good deal, and, frankly, her kids should be *commended* for learning that lesson!) that it seems very unlikely they would notice actual differences.

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      • We definitely had door to door people offering services. I’d say they tended to be adult men and their tee age sons or a couple college-aged kids home on break.

        I went out once in HS. Agrees to a decent sum (maybe $30?) and then got harangued by the homeowner who basically had me do the job twice he was so exacting. A real dick. I either took the money and called it quits or just walked off cashless… I can’t remember specifically.

        This was in NJ. I did see a headline saying Christie relaxed statewide shovel licensing requirements over the weekend. No idea what that’s about but if it’s true that you risked getting n trouble for shoveling without a license… Fucking Christ(ie) almighty!

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        • We were trapped in our house for about two days, trying to shovel ourselves out. Finally some neighbors came and helped.

          Our next-door neighbor threatened to call the police chief on them for shoveling snow on a public street.

          Made all the more interesting by the fact that our next door neighbor is the mayor. The city plowed our street to his house, but then stopped.

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      • Yes, regional. By the time I was seventeen, having lived in snow country since I was three, and being a scrawny little kid for most of that, I was one of the world’s great experts on figuring out how to clear a particular area with minimal effort. The last time we had a 30″ storm, I shoveled my driveway and walk in just about the same time that the couple across the street did theirs, him with an under-powered snow blower and her with a shovel. That was some years back, though, since 30″ storms are relatively uncommon as long as you’re not actually up into the foothills. I’ve reached the age where the next one is going to be much more of a pain.

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      • The most ambiguous Christmas I had growing up was when I (for some reason, possibly swayed by pop culture) nagged my parents for a sled and they got me one.

        During the entire time it was age-appropriate, it snowed enough for me to use it exactly once. It snowed enough for me to almost use it a handful of times, which just made it worse.

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      • What the hell is snow? Is that like hail? We had like half an inch of hail once.

        Edit: I haven’t thought about it in twenty years, but I just realized that the reason we got hail but never snow is that hailstones are big enough not to melt as soon as they hit the ground.

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  14. Just as a general rule, most kids below 16 don’t get many opportunities to earn money, but they are also the very definition of ‘unskilled labor’ so they tend to get lousy jobs. My grandfather gave us some very tough jobs that often amounted to, “Move that pile of rocks from Point A to Point B,” but that money was sweet. It was tax-free, I didn’t really have anything more important to do with my time and he always encouraged us to go blow a little of it on something fun. Plus it was quality time with the old man, listening to his stories and I would gladly move that pile of rocks again to see him once more.

    My kids did the jobs I hated, like pooper scooping the backyard, because that’s the way employment basically works. If I like doing it and/or was willing to do it, why pay someone else? That’s basic economics.

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    • Yes, but unskilled labour when there’s a tight labor market of “people willing to shovel driveways” means you get a better rate.

      (Note – Only taking this about 25% serious. :))

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      • But, um, really, there shouldn’t be a tight labor market. We have this thing called unemployment (and in my city in particular, there’s a lot of African American unemployment, definitely of people of an age to shovel sidewalks (not children!)).

        If there is a labor market of “just kids”, is it because we’re deliberately choosing not to hire people who need the work? [at least in my neighborhood, it’s not a mobility issue. you can take the bus here.]

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  15. My guess at the source of the problem is money illusion – a failure to account for inflation properly, although I wouldn’t rule out adults treating childrens’ time as worthless as a partial cause either.

    I don’t think analogies to strike action work though – the children have made a collective decision to withhold labour, each child has been given a take-it-or-leave-it offer and has chosen to leave it.

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  16. The real problem is Obamacare. Households won’t hire kids to shovel snow for more than 30 hours a week and now we have all those kids out on their parents’ insurance, indirectly driving up local area premiums.

    More seriously, this is a good post. Regarding inflation, I used to get frustrated as a kid being lectured by old timers about how they got their first job working at something like 35 cents an hour…..in 1930 something. There seemed no acknowledgement that such many went a longer way then than now. I won’t swear I’m innocent of that kind of reasoning, and the worst thing is I’m probably guilty in ways I don’t realize.

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    • Gab,
      You haven’t met my family. My dad never got paid for the work he did as a kid, and his dad got paid a dime a shirt for going door to door (and that was split with his brothers!).

      And that’s not the worst story I’ve heard, either!

      Try: “parent writes excuse for school, allowing kid to come work the department store sale. Payment for kid (8 hours work) was barely enough to eat a mall pretzel or two.”

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  17. meanwhile in south Texas
    Friday hi 71 low 46
    Saturday hi 73 low 54
    Sunday hi 75 low 61

    Another t-shirt, flip-flop, coconut rum weekend.

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  18. Pingback: Why Aren’t Neighborhood Kids Shoveling Driveways to Earn Money Anymore? | Like Totally 80s

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