by Alfredo Ortiz
The school year is coming to a close, which means millions of American teenagers will be dropping their pencils and notebooks in favor of picking up a summer job.
Summer jobs during the teenage years are just about as American as apple pie or an afternoon spent at the baseball park. In fact, in 2017, 35 percent of people between the ages of 16 and 19 years old participated in the seasonal summer-employment ritual.
Encouraging the youth of America to buckle down and hold down seasonal employment during the summer months not only ensures a brighter future for the teenagers themselves, but it’s the first step in ensuring that the future U.S. workforce is equipped with the basic skills necessary to successfully keep a job and eventually embark on a career.
We’re not talking about learning how to solve calculus problems or how to pen an essay on the political ideology of philosophers from the previous century. We’re talking about more basic skills that can be applied to almost any employment opportunity. These include punctuality, dependability, acclimating to the eight-hour workday, and even simply learning the value of hard work.
These may seem like obvious skills to acquire, but people need to learn them somewhere. Some of the most successful people learned these skills and began their careers during either a summer job or similar seasonal part-time employment.
Take, for example, Warren Buffett, one of the wealthiest people in the world. He started on his career path by delivering newspapers at the age of 13. Jennifer Aniston, a Hollywood megastar, got her start cleaning houses. And 44th President of the United States Barack Obama began his working life scooping ice cream at Baskin-Robbins during his teenage years.
It’s clear that the road to success always begins with a first job, whether you end up as a manager at a local restaurant or the leader of the free world.
However, a recent trend around summer employment is cause for concern. Since the year 2000, the number of teenagers holding down a summer job has dropped by nearly 17 percentage points. Although no concrete evidence exists, it’s likely that the drop in early-age jobs during the past two decades is contributing to the shortage of skilled workers in the labor force.
In fact, according to recent data from the Department of Labor, there are nearly seven million unfilled jobs in the country, many of which are vacant because employers are having a difficult time finding employees who are equipped with the necessary skills to complete the job. While it may seem trivial to connect this major problem to fewer teenagers becoming lifeguards or staffing concession stands during the summer months, attaining that work ethic at a young age can have a major impact on what people pursue in the future.
But what could be causing this teenage job dilemma? One likely factor is a rising minimum wage.
States and municipalities across the country have been raising the minimum wage to as high as $15 an hour. In fact, in January of this year, 20 states and 23 localities imposed a higher minimum wage.
This policy may be paraded as a pro-worker policy that will push wage levels up, but in reality, it’s a change that harms the very people it’s trying to help – notably young workers. Because when minimum-wage levels are raised, employers are forced to cut entry-level jobs, and the ones that remain will be reserved for older workers with more experience.
As we enter the summer months, it’s important to remember the value of a teenage summer job and the broader benefits that will result from the experience later down the road. It’s critical policymakers promote these opportunities, not stifle them.
Alfredo Ortiz is the president and CEO of the Job Creators Network.