There’s no doubt that for teenagers, getting that first job is vitally important. It’s a harbinger for success that could last years, perhaps even the rest of their working lives.
A Drexel University study in 2013 aptly demonstrated that fact. In a Metro.com report, Drexel labor economist Paul Harrington — the lead author of the study — said that holding a formal job during high school led to a 20 to 25 percent increase in salary a decade later.
But if teens can’t get those jobs — and particularly teens from low-income families — then they can’t realize those future opportunities. It’s certainly an issue here in Southern Nevada, where the youth jobless rate (ages 16-24) is 15.2 percent. The state doesn’t calculate teen unemployment (ages 16-19), but nationally the rate is 17.1 percent, and Nevada’s is likely significantly higher than that.
Yet this is an issue that could be at least partially addressed by removing the bureaucratic roadblocks to employment in typical teen jobs.
Take fast-food work, for example. In a better time that many of us are surely familiar with, getting a job at McDonald’s, Taco Bell or the local pizza place or sandwich shop was a pretty simple process: put in your application, get interviewed, get thrown an apron and put through on-the-job training, and off we went.
Now, there are layers that make it more difficult to get to the point of actually earning a paycheck. You still put in the application, then hope you can gain the interview — which is much more difficult, as the region continues recovering from the Great Recession. Then come the barriers.
First, you’re going to need a computer with Internet access, so that you can go to the Southern Nevada Health District website to be put through your paces. You’ll be redirected to a vegaspbs.org webpage to create a user account. Then you must enter a credit card or debit card number and pay $20 in order to gain access to reading material and several videos about food handling and preparation — because the bureaucracy has to get its cut, even before you get hired. Following the videos, you must take and pass a test, then print out a certificate proving you passed the test.
That would seem like enough, but it’s not. You then have to take that certificate to an SNHD office — presuming, of course, you have transportation — and pay another $20 (because that first $20 just isn’t enough for the bureaucracy) in order to be granted your official SNHD food handler safety training card.
Then you can go back to the employer, present the card and (hopefully) officially be hired. How many teens are willing or able to jump through all those hoops?
This is government regulatory overreach arguably at its worst, often working against people who can afford neither the time nor the expense. It’s creating several layers of needless busy work in order to keep the ever-growing field of regulators gainfully employed.
In SNHD’s defense, the agency noted these cards are required by law, the online program ensures that everybody has the same type of initial training, and that training serves as an extra layer of protection for the public.
However, this training and much more will almost assuredly be replicated by the manager of any fast-food joint. Does anyone think for a moment that a new employee, particularly a teenager in his first job, will be assumed ready to go and thrown into the mix on day one, just because he watched a few videos? Not unless that restaurant wants dissatisfied patrons or worse, a lawsuit.
That new employee is in for a bunch of training, not only on how to handle and prepare food, but how to treat customers, how to mop floors, clean tables and more.
The reason teens need that first job, and the future success it often predicts, is to learn the meaning and value of work. Showing up on time, proving they can work well with others, learning to interact with customers, respectfully taking and executing orders from their bosses. They don’t need a burdensome lesson in regulatory bureaucracy as part of the hiring process. (A further aside: raising the minimum wage, as state legislators on both sides of the aisle are proposing, will also knock more teens out of the job market.)
The youth unemployment rate shows the need for regulatory improvement. In fact, government should be eager to dial back regulations, because even though Nevada has no state income tax, teen wage earners can become productive citizens and consumers who contribute to the local economy by gaining purchasing power and paying sales taxes. That’s where the government’s cut should come from.
Stop penalizing teens before they can even draw their first paycheck. Break down employment barriers. Their future depends on it.
Patrick Everson is an editorial writer for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Follow him on Twitter: @PatrickCEverson.