Teenagers in South Florida and elsewhere face tough time finding summer jobs

Original Article:

  • Author: Kristen Lopez Eastlick

  • Publication Date: July 2008

  • Newspaper: South Florida Sun Sentinel

  • Topics: Teen Unemployment

The Independence Day fireworks have burst through the air, marking the mid-point of most Florida teens’ summer vacation. And thanks to misguided politicians, many of them have been spending these summer months in front of the TV rather than waiting tables or scooping ice cream.

According to a CNN report, June employment for teenagers dropped nearly 40 percent below 2007 levels and summer hiring for teens was at the lowest pace in 50 years.

Researchers at Northeastern University, who described summer 2007 as “the worst in post-World War II history” for teen summer employment, say that 2008 is to be “even worse.” According to their data, only about one-third of Americans 16-19 years old will have a job this summer, and vulnerable low-income and minority teens are going to fare even worse.

One of the 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 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. Florida’s minimum wage has increased more than three times that amount in the last three years. And, in the past year alone, Florida’s unemployment has gone up a staggering 41 percent, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Couple these mandated wage hikes with a sputtering economy and it should be no surprise to see teen jobs disappearing.

In Florida, the public relations manager for the Suncoast Workforce Board said, “It’s going to be tough for them (teens) right now. The unemployment rates are higher than they were a year ago, so they’re competing against other job-seekers.”

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.

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.

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

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 important — 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 senior economic analyst at the Employment Policies Institute, a non-profit research organization that studies public policy issues surrounding entry-level employment.