July 9 2014
It is always comforting when research confirms what common sense already professes. For example, common sense tells us that learning the value of work early in life will likely set you up for a strong employment record in your adult years. Now we have two academic studies which prove the point.
The most recent evidence comes from researchers at the University of British Columbia, who found that teens working in the summer are more likely to get paid more and have better jobs later in life. Study co-author Marc-David Seidel explains,
With summer in full swing and kids sitting on the couch, many parents are wondering whether to push them to find a job… Parents may think that their kids could do better than a job at the local fast food joint. But our study shows even flipping burgers has value - particularly if it leads to part-time work later during school term.
One of the positive results of summer work is that “teens in part-time jobs progress to better-suited careers since the early exposure to work helps them hone their preferences,” the study authors found.
The UBC study reinforces a Brookings Institution research paper from earlier this year. “[R]esearch shows those who work in high school have wages 10 to 15 percent higher when they graduate from college,” said Ishwar Khatiwada, a co-author of The Plummeting Labor Market Fortunes of Teens and Young Adults and an associate director of research at Northeastern University’s Center for Labor Market Studies.
Trouble is that finding a summer job keeps getting harder not easier. As the New York Times reported Bureau of Labor Statistics results, “about 25 percent of the nation’s 16- to 19-year-olds were in the work force in 2013, compared with 45 percent in 2000.”
And, raising minimum wage means fewer summer jobs for kids because businesses can’t afford to hire seasonal workers. Stephen Moore points out that minimum wage hikes, which President Obama has been pushing and some cities like Seattle have already hiked, are a major problem:
[W]e don’t have to debate what the effect of a higher minimum wage will have on young people. We already know from recent history. In 2007 and 2008 the minimum wage was raised three times. This wage hike requirement came at the worst possible time – just as the U.S. economy was entering recession. The effects on teen employment were immediate and devastating. The national teen unemployment rate nearly doubled. At one point during the recession in 2009, the black teen unemployment rate was nearly 50 percent, which is the rate in many third-world nations.
Finding a summer job isn’t the only trouble with young people’s relationship to work, however. As Mike Rowe, the former host of the TV show “Dirty Jobs,” points out, there’s been a long-standing push toward college over manual labor and burger flipping.
When I was 17 my high school guidance counselor tried to talk me into going on to earn a four-year degree. I had nothing against college, but the universities that Mr. Dunbar recommended were expensive, and I had no idea what I wanted to study. I thought a community college made more sense, but Mr. Dunbar said a two-year school was “beneath my potential.” He pointed to a poster hanging behind his desk: On one side of the poster was a beaten-down, depressed-looking blue-collar worker; on the other side was an optimistic college graduate with his eyes on the horizon. Underneath, the text read: Work Smart not Hard….”Look at these two guys,” Mr. Dunbar said. ‘Which one do you want to be?’
Rowe argues that we have to change our mindset to one that values working hard and smart. He changed the poster to illustrate the point.
The good news is that in cities across the country, teens want to work hard in the summer and many tried and did find work. Sadly, though, there are too many examples of well-meaning politicians and bureaucrats who are getting in the way. Look at New York City for example. They had 130,000 applicants for their summer jobs program and only enough positions for 46,913 kids. Better for government to get out of the way, lets businesses do the hiring and quit tampering with requirements for how much people earn, especially at entry level jobs. If we just encourage the supply of teen labor, as Mike Rowe is trying to do and at the same time free up the demand, by leaving minimum wage requirements alone, we can grow the economy and help some young workers at the same time.