Getting that first job used to be a rite of passage for every teenager. But far fewer teens have been working recently, and not always by choice. George Mason University just released a study of why so few 16-and-17-year-olds have joined the work force since 2000. The reasons include competition for jobs by immigrants and the pressure to excel academically while racking up tons of extracurricular credits, leaving no time for an after-school job.
But the most significant factor is the campaign to raise the minimum wage. It’s pushing teenagers out of the work force because employers won’t pay up to $15 an hour for a young, inexperienced worker. The extra cost means business owners are also cutting training programs that benefit workers down the road, and reducing job opportunities for all workers, not just teens. The study also found that in states with higher minimum wages, teens who do have jobs get slower pay increases.
I hate to see this trend, and not because I don’t want hard-working people to get a raise (my dad was a mechanic and fireman, my mother a clerk at a gas company, and I got my first job at 14.) But when government artificially inflates the cost of labor, it forces small businesses to cut jobs and hours, reject inexperienced newcomers, and replace unskilled workers with automation. In some cases, businesses just go out of business, leaving everyone out of work (“We’re from the government and we’re here to help you!”)
While I think the inflated minimum wage campaign is well-intentioned but wrongheaded, I feel the same way about the pressure on kids to pad their school records with extracurricular activities instead of taking after-school and summer jobs. The experience, lessons and work habits I gained from those early jobs (not “dead-end” jobs, but “starter jobs” or “entry-level jobs”) are things that I still use every day and that made a major contribution to all my success later in life. No offense, but I don’t know if you could say the same thing about soccer practice, mime class or the Dungeons & Dragons Club.
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