Thoughts on the teenage unemployment rate

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I read a letter to the editor today, a passionate exhortation from a man who claimed that the rising minimum wage was pricing teenagers out of the job market. That wage supposedly was denying these adolescents a chance to learn valuable life skills. I think he may be wrong. At least, I suspect he is overestimating the effect of that wage on teenage employment.

Let’s say I own a small business and I am looking for an employee. Do I hire an untried adolescent or Enrique? Enrique has work experience and he may stay for some years. He likely has a better work ethic and a more reasonable set of expectations than my adolescent applicant as well. Whether the minimum wage is $5.00 or $15.00, the odds are that I will hire Enrique.

Eduhonesty: The schools bear some responsibility for this situation, as does the whole set-up with handouts to the financially disadvantaged. We give students free breakfasts, lunches, eyeglasses, pencils, paper, notebooks, workbooks, and many other goodies. Parents hand them IPhones and buy them gaming systems in return for decent grades that may not require a great deal of effort to earn. Parents may even buy these toys for students with catastrophic grades. Add the effect of television, where hard work looks exciting when it’s seen at all, and it’s no surprise that many of America’s students are not ready for their first job. The consequences of being tardy at school might be an occasional lecture and a detention or two for repeat offenders, as well as calls home to parents who are often working and not available to supervise the morning rituals of their children. School penalties include detentions and lectures for most, an occasional suspension for those who resort to violence or actively curse at their teacher. Those penalties seldom have teeth. A suspension may represent three days of uninterrupted gaming if both parents work. Students are often allowed to make up their work. Students are given second, third, fourth and fifth chances. Or more. These chances are given year after year.

Our young children don’t get a chance to earn much. Too often, we hand them what they need. They also don’t get effectively penalized for behaviors that will never be allowed in the workplace.

A cheap minimum would imply these students are not worth much to an employer and, unfortunately, that may be true.