I posted recently on the impact of the recession on the summer job market for teenagers. Now USA Today has written a feature piece on the extent of the downturn in jobs for teenagers. Ten years ago, about half of all teens had jobs; this year it is only about 25 percent. The story notes that teens now are in competition for scarce jobs with older workers, immigrants, and former blue collar workers. In addition, increases to the minimum wage have hurt the number of jobs available for teenagers, and have had a disproportionately harsh impact on jobs for minority teens. One potential solution — a special, lower minimum wage for teenager workers — doesn’t seem to have much support in Congress.
Whatever the cause, I think few would argue against the proposition that having a bunch of unemployed teenagers laying around this summer is not a good thing. Summer jobs provide crucial learning experiences for teenagers and help to ingrain habits of hard work and thrift. In addition, there is truth to the old adage that “idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” Teenagers who are working at a pool, a Dairy Queen, a golf course, a grocery store, or on a lawn crew don’t have as much time to be “bored” and engage in risky behavior with their friends.
There has been a vigorous debate about whether increasing the minimum wage has been helpful or harmful. If the price of higher wages is fewer teenage jobs, I am not sure that it was a price worth paying.