Teens out of work

If you’re a teenager looking for a summer job to earn a little spending money, you’re probably out of luck.

The Associated Press reported this week that the unemployment rate for teenagers — those actively seeking work — jumped from 15.4 percent in April to 18.7 percent in May, the highest it’s been since 2003.

The situation is even worse for minority teens, particularly African-Americans.

Andrew Surn, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University, says jobs that once went to teens now go to older or immigrant workers. In addition, he said, some employers have raised the minimum age of applications they will consider.

OK. But are other factors also at work?

In 2006, Congress raised the minimum wage 20 percent to $6.15 an hour. That same year, voters in several states — including Nevada — approved their own minimum wage laws, exceeding federal requirements.

Supporters of a higher minimum wage argue that the laws help struggling families survive. In fact, very, very few minimum wage earners are the sole breadwinners in households.

On the other hand, minimum wage hikes raise the cost to employers of offering many entry-level jobs — precisely the type of work a teenager might undertake to gain responsibility, make a little extra money, and solidify his employment history.

And as wages increase, competition for those higher-paying entry level jobs becomes more intense. A teenager with little or no experience gets shoved to the back of the line.

Liberal and free-market economists can argue back and forth the cost-benefit calculations of raising the minimum wage. But it’s silly to discuss the current high levels of teenage unemployment without even bringing up the issue.

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