Outlook Bleak For Teen Summer Jobs

Original Article:

  • Author: Michael Saltsman

  • Publication Date: May 2010

  • Newspaper: South Florida Sun Sentinel

  • Topics: Minimum Wage

The good news is that your teens will have plenty of time to learn about Roman mythology this summer.
The bad news is that they’ll do so by playing the ultraviolent videogame “God of War III.” They’ll need something to occupy their summer days, as getting a job is unlikely.

A new Bureau of Labor Statistics report shows the unemployment rate for high school graduates in the class of 2009 was 28.4 percent — almost double the 2007 rate.

A deeper look at the numbers suggests things are even worse. An Employment Policies Institute analysis of bureau data found that it’s taking these unemployed teens far longer to land a job. Over the last three years, there’s been a 174 percent increase in the percentage of teens looking for a job for six months or more. As of March 2010, almost one in three unemployed teens had spent this long looking for work; three years ago, that number was only one in nine.

What’s happened in the intervening three years? A historic recession and a massive, 40 percent increase in the federal minimum wage between July 2007 and July 2009.

According to a 2007 University of New Hampshire survey, three out of four economists agree minimum wage hikes kill jobs. The latest wage increase was no exception; research from Ball State University estimates it is responsible for eliminating over 300,000 teenage job opportunities.

It’s not hard to understand why: As labor costs go up, employers are forced to schedule unskilled employees for fewer hours, or eliminate their positions altogether.

As labor costs increase, it becomes more likely that employers will automate entry-level jobs. McDonalds taught America how to clean their own tables. Exxon taught us to pump our own gas. Safeway is teaching us to check out our own groceries. Self-service is becoming the default option for avoiding labor costs that can’t be offset with price hikes.

As a result, teenagers lose out on lessons like working with others, reporting to a supervisor and coming to work on time. This “invisible curriculum” isn’t taught in school, but is just as important to future career success as geometry class.

But thanks to increases in the minimum wage and the continuing effect of the financial crisis, more teenagers than ever before will miss out on these formative experiences.

What can be done? Let’s lower the minimum wage for teenagers. Instead of forcing employers to pay an untrained, untested employee an inflated wage, give employers more freedom to evaluate how much someone with less experience and fewer work skills is worth.
Video game companies will probably oppose the move, but the rest of us should support any policy that means more teens in jobs, and fewer teens in front of PlayStations.

Michael Saltsman is the research fellow at the Employment Policies Institute, a nonprofit research firm in Washington, D.C.