Employment: Colorado Teens Hit Hard This Holiday

  • Author: Kristen Lopez Eastlick

  • Publication Date: December 2009

  • Newspaper: Boulder Daily Camera

  • Topics: Minimum Wage, Teen Unemployment

Though the holiday season is traditionally a time of celebration, this year the teen unemployment crisis threatens to be a lump of coal in the stockings of many young Americans.

But it`s not job seekers who have been naughty; it`s their representatives in Congress. In the midst of economic turmoil and a deep recession, Congress ignored the pleas of economists and allowed the third of three planned hikes to the federal minimum wage to go into effect in July.

Teen unemployment has increased 12 percent since then, double the increase in the national unemployment rate. And almost half of African-American teens seeking a job have been unable to find one.

Unfortunately, teens in Colorado haven`t been exempt from these painful unemployment trends either. Teenage unemployment has averaged 23.85 percent over the last year in the Centennial State, more than three times the state-wide unemployment average.

Now, with retailers hiring far fewer seasonal workers than they typically would during better economic times, it`s promising to be a blue Christmas for many teenage Americans.

But it didn`t have to be this way.

In early 2007, Congress believed the emotional argument that poor families would benefit from a 40 percent increase in the federal minimum wage. Because the economy seemed stable, politicians rejected the decades of economic research that showed minimum wage hikes cause declines in the employment of vulnerable groups, particularly high school drop outs, and minority teens.

It turns out that decision could not have come at a worse time. By the time the second 70-cent wage hike was implemented, 370,000 more teens counted themselves among the unemployed. Last Christmas, the teen unemployment rate reached 20.8 percent nationwide, and the retail community posted the lowest seasonal job gain in twenty years.

This Christmas, teens are at the mercy of a perfect winter storm. They face a holiday shopping season where employers don`t have much ability to offer new jobs due to tighter budgets. For the jobs that are available, teens face competition from the skilled workers who make up the more than 15 million unemployed across the U.S. And since the new minimum wage means employers will hire the most skilled applicants first, teens find they are left out in the cold.

Sadly, the longer our teens are absent from the labor force, the worse off they will be. Studies show teenagers with long periods of unemployment wind up with lower future earnings, and are more likely to become entangled in the criminal justice system.

To make sure teens don`t have a similarly depressing holiday season next year, Congress should make a New Year`s resolution not to add additional financial burdens that would prevent employers from hiring teen workers.

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.