My Summer Job Apocalypse

Original Article:

  • Author: Kristen Lopez Eastlick

  • Publication Date: April 2009

  • Newspaper: Cleveland Plain Dealer

  • Topics: Teen Unemployment

Also ran in: Birmingham News, San Francisco Examiner, Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Fort Myers News-Press, Charleston Gazette, Asheville Citizen-Times

Exit light. Enter night. Take my hand. Off to never never land!

Let’s hope parents enjoy listening to Metallica as much as their kids do. Because when school gets out of session, a record number of teens will be stuck at home playing the new Guitar Hero: Metallica instead of out in the workforce earning a paycheck.
There will be a startling number of teenagers left sitting at home this summer as the unemployment rate for young Americans reaches all-time highs.

Without jobs, these teens will be denied the “invisible curriculum” that comes with having a job. Learning how to report to a supervisor, show up on time and work with others as part of a team are all skills we gained in our first jobs. This generation will largely be denied that experience, and the unfortunate part is it didn’t have to be this way.

Economic research has shown time and again that increasing the minimum wage destroys jobs for low-skilled workers while doing little to address poverty. Research from the University of Georgia in 2006 found that every 10 percent increase in the minimum wage was associated with a 4.6 percent to 9.0 percent decline in teenage employment in small businesses.

This prediction proved true last summer as the 12 percent minimum-wage hike corresponded with a 5 percent employment drop for teens.

For vulnerable teens, not getting these entry-level jobs can have a long-term impact. A study out of Stanford University found that those who as youths experienced especially long periods of unemployment were particularly prone to negative long-term effects on future wages and employment. And research from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, found that unemployment for teens continues to adversely affect earnings for as long as 10 years.

If historical and economic evidence is any guide, the number of jobless teens will continue to rise as we approach yet another wage hike in July.
Testimony from employers across the country reinforces this data.

In Arizona,’s survey of more than 1,000 hiring managers who recruit summer hourly employees found that nearly half will not do so this year. The group’s senior vice president said, “teens and young adults . . . throughout the country are going to face a tough hunt for a summer job.”

In Massachusetts, the Boston Private Industry Council notes that retailers especially have cut down on hiring teens. Executive director Neil Sullivan says, “Through technology, through adults, the economy has found ways to substitute for young people.”

When the minimum wage climbs, employers seek out applicants with a job history because they are more likely to be worth the higher pay. Companies likely to take a chance on young workers become less interested in the higher costs for training. Being less experienced, teens are shut out of the job market, and the opportunity to learn those life lessons is delayed. It is clear that these lessons teens learn in their first jobs are not easily taught in a classroom setting and the job experience that new workers acquire sets them up for future success as they earn promotions and raises that typically outpace any minimum-wage hike.

This summer, a struggling economy and skyrocketing wage mandates will continue a disastrous three-year trend for the entry-level job market. After another summer decrying their teenagers sitting at home on the couch, it is hoped that policy-makers will come to the same conclusion that teenagers and their parents did a long time ago: A first job at the minimum wage is much better than no job at all.

Kristen Lopez Eastlick is the senior economic analyst at the Employment Policies Institute, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization which studies entry-level employment.