Dude: Where’s My Summer Job

Original Article:

  • Author: Kristen Lopez Eastlick

  • Publication Date: July 2008

  • Newspaper: Madison, WI, State Journal; also ran in San Antonio Express News, Colorado Springs Gazette, and the Washington Examiner

  • Topics: Minimum Wage

Finals week is over; summer is here. And thanks to misguided politicians, your teenager is more likely to be sitting in front of the television than waiting tables or scooping ice cream.

This year, it’s harder than ever for teens to find a summer job. Researchers at Northeastern University described summer 2007 as “the worst in post-World War II history” for teen summer employment, and those same researchers say that 2008 is poised to be “even worse.”

According to their data, only about one-third of Americans 16 to 19 years old will have a job this summer, and vulnerable low-income and minority teens are going to fare even worse.

The percentage of teens classified as “unemployed” — those who are actively seeking a job but can’t get one — is more than three times higher than the national unemployment rate, according to the most recent Department of Labor statistics.

One of the prime reasons for this drastic employment drought is the mandated wage hikes that policymakers have forced down the throats of local businesses. Economic research has shown time and again that increasing the minimum wage destroys jobs for low-skilled workers while doing little to address poverty.

According to economist David Neumark of the University of California at Irvine, for every 10 percent increase in the minimum wage, employment for high school dropouts and young black adults and teenagers falls by 8.5 percent. In the past 11 months alone, the United States’ minimum wage has increased by more than twice that amount.

So it should be no surprise to see teen jobs disappearing or to hear bleak testimony from employers across the country that make these hiring decisions.

In Massachusetts, the Boston Youth Fund will put 3,600 teenagers between 15 and 17 years old to work this summer, but the ratio of applicants to jobs is more than 2-to-1. The state has seen a 33 percent decline in teen employment over the past eight years. It’s no coincidence, then, that in the same time period the state’s minimum wage has soared.

In Arizona, Pledge-a-Job is a government-funded organization dedicated to increasing the number of job opportunities available to youth. But this summer, its task is a tall one. According to the group’s coordinator: “There’s no doubt about it. Summer jobs will be tough to find this year.”

And the owner of Santa Barbara Ice Creamery — what was once a go-to summer job spot for Tucson, Ariz., teens — said that because of increased wages and dairy prices, she’s only relying on a few longtime employees.

You don’t need a business degree to understand why employers are making these cuts. The classic summer jobs — cashier, waiter, grocery clerk — can help an employer with increased service or make up for full-time employees who take vacations.

When the minimum wage gets boosted, however, employers cut down on hiring teens who typically fill lower-priority slots. Most of the work still gets done, but customers may get stuck standing in longer lines, and teens suffer because they’ve been priced out of work.

There’s no end to the economic data that confirm these common-sense observations. Research from the University of Georgia, the University of Connecticut and Cornell University indicates that increasing the minimum wage causes four times more job loss for employees without a high school diploma than it does for the general population.

Furthermore, minimum wage hikes don’t effectively target the people who are typically portrayed as the key beneficiaries — low-income adults raising kids. According to U.S. Census Bureau data, just 14 percent of those who benefited from the most recent federal minimum wage hike are sole earners in families with children.

A summer job for a teen is much more than a paycheck: It’s a chance to gain important skills, increase one’s value to future employers and — just as importantly — learn what it’s like to have a job! But ill-advised policymakers are blinded by the basement salary figure instead of looking at the big picture.

Mandated wage hikes have negative consequences that too many politicians are ignoring. Hopefully some of them will discover the truth when they return home this summer to find their teenage children stuck languishing on the couch.

Kristen Lopez Eastlick is the senior economic analyst at the Employment Policies Institute, a nonprofit research organization dedicated to studying public policy issues surrounding entry-level employment.