Summer jobs for teen-agers are disappearing.
Fewer than three in 10 American teenagers will hold jobs such as running cash registers, mowing lawns or busing restaurant tables from June to August, this year.
The decline has been particularly sharp since 2000, with employment for 16-to-19-year-olds falling to the lowest level since World War II.
“Older workers, immigrants and debt-laden college graduates are taking away lower-skill work as they struggle to find their own jobs in the weak economy,” reports The Associated Press.
Overall, more than 44 percent of teens who want summer jobs won’t get them, or will work fewer hours than they’d like.
“It’s really frustrating,” says Colleen Knaggs, describing her fruitless efforts to find work for the past two years. The 18-year-old graduated from high school last week in Flagstaff, Ariz., the state that ranks highest in the share of U.S. teens who are unable to get the summer work they desire, at 58 percent. (Overall, teen unemployment will run 29.2 percent in Arizona, this summer.
Teen unemployment is expected to run 35.7 percent in Nevada this summer, trailing only South Carolina at 36.1 percent at the District of Columbia at 45.3 percent, based on an analysis of Census Bureau Current Population Survey data from June to August 2011 done at Northeastern University’s Center for Labor Market Studies.
(“Unemployment,” obviously, counts only those teens who bother looking for work, and find none at all. Nevada’s “labor force underutilization rate” for teens will be a whopping 52.8 percent.)
The national teen unemployment rate is expected to run 25.2 percent.
The states where teens are doing best are Hawaii (11.7 percent unemployment), Wyoming (12.3) and Nebraska (12.8) — states with relatively low levels of illegal immigration.
“I have big concerns about this generation of young people,” says Harry Holzer, labor economist and public policy professor at Georgetown University. Holzer tells The AP the income gap between rich and poor gets worse when lower-income youths who are less likely to enroll in college are unable to get job skills and training.
“For young high school graduates or dropouts, their early work experience is more closely tied to their success in the labor market.”
Indeed, the main point of a first job isn’t the take-home pay — it’s building up a work history, providing evidence to future employers that the young worker is reliable. This makes the decline especially troubling for teens who aren’t going on to college. If they can’t mount the first rung on the employment ladder — a trainee’s job for low wages — where will they start?
And that, in turn, makes it doubly puzzling that so few who bemoan these job losses point out the most obvious cause: Congress has systematically outlawed the majority of teen-age jobs.
They call this outlawing of jobs “the minimum wage.”
The current federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. Some states, including Nevada, set higher wages. (Nevada’s is $8.25 an hour, with some exceptions.)
When the minimum wage was last hiked — from $6.55, in 2008 — did every kid then earning $6.55 get a 70-cent raise? No. Some of them were let go. Some who might have been subsequently hired were never hired at all.
Businesses prevent such government meddling from driving them OUT of business by adopting new technologies that help them trim their labor force — starting from the bottom. ATMs replace bank tellers; automatic fryers and broilers cut down the need for kitchen help.
In 1955, the minimum wage was 75 cents an hour. Correcting for inflation, that would be $4.39 in today’s dollars.
By 1989, the minimum wage had officially climbed to $3.35 — but inflation meant that it had actually dropped in buying power, to $4.24 when corrected to today’s dollars.
And inflation continued to out-accelerate the buying power of the minimum hourly wage — a good thing, since it kept many teen-agers in work. While the minimum was nominally $5.15 by 2006, the buying power of that wage amounted to just $4.04 in today’s much-inflated dollars.
So why do none of those bemoaning the loss of entry-level jobs for teen-agers point out that plenty of teen trainees with minimal jobs skills might still be worth $4.04 per hour to a modern employer — but sure aren’t going to be hired at $8.25, especially if older, more experienced workers (whether they’re here legally or otherwise), are wiling to bring their experience at that rate?
If we want to give teen-agers — especially minority and low-income teen-agers — the benefits of entry-level summer jobs, the first step is obvious:
Let the market decide what their services are worth. Repeal the minimum wage.