Thread Rescue: What Killed the Teenage Job?
Will Truman’s great Linky Friday #95 led to an interesting discussion about the death of the summer job for teenagers and whether this was caused by a higher minimum wage or more immigration. This further led to a concern about whether it is worth it to mourn the death of the teenage job. I think this thread is worth expanding on and deserves a post of its own.
I think a higher minimum wage and immigration could have led to the partial dearth of jobs for teenagers but those are likely only partial answers and largely red herrings for people with ideological axes to grind against higher minimum wages and immigration.
The death of the teenage job is probably more complicated than this and youth unemployment especially teenage unemployment is just another victim of various technological, social, and economic changes that have been happening since the 1990s. I would like to explore these in a bit more depth.
1. Technology/The Internet
I was a high school student between 1994-1998. When I was in middle school, I think I only knew one kid who had access to the Internet through Prodigy. When I was a high school freshman, the Internet exploded and seemingly everyone in my high school got their first AOL e-mail account and a connection via a 14.4K modem. I think the rise of e-commerce helped kill the teenage job and is a potentially unspoken cause of death. When I was a teenager, my hometown had a big Sam Goody music store in the center of town. It is probably one of the few chain stores in town besides Starbucks and Hagen-Daaz. There was also a Sam Goody, Tower Records, or Virgin Megastore in most surrounding stores.
These stores were great employers of teenagers. They are pretty much extinct because most people do not buy physical copies of music anymore. From what I hear, many people don’t even by MP3s anymore and just stream music through Spotify, Pandora, and other sources. There are still music stores but they tend to be for serious collectors or large used stores like Amoeba that never really hired teenagers in the first place because the stores require want or require employees with specialized music knowledge. They also want employees who can figure out whether a used album or CD is worth buying or not. The same is true for Book Stores. The ones that remain tend to be used bookstores like The Strand in NYC and Powell’s in Portland. I’m not sure these stores ever hired teenagers. I applied for a job at the Strand when I was 24 and was required to complete a literature test on who wrote what and where it would be filed. I would also be required to join a union (Strand employees are organized by the U.A.W.) I would not be surprised if stores like Amoeba required potential employees to show their music knowledge. Most teenagers do not have this knowledge and large corporate chains like Tower Records probably did not care.
Will Truman pointed out that working at grocery stores as a checkout person or bagger could be an option but these jobs are also disappearing because of the rise of self-checkout and self-bagging. Newspaper routes are also dead because newspapers are largely dead. I am considered a weirdo because I think reading a paper edition of the New York Times (especially on Sunday) is a great pleasure.
2. The Countinued Underemployment of 20-Somethings
The continued underemployment of 20 and 30-something Millennials is also another source for teenage unemployment. This cohort is still suffering from The Great Recession and many find themselves with a lot of student debt and jobs that don’t match their education level. This group can be considered the cheapest generation.
Patrick mentioned that he earned money as a baby sitter. Why hire a teenager when you can hire someone with a degree in early childhood education or something fancy? Why hire a teenager to walk your dog when there are businesses that promise their dog walkers have college degrees? Why hire a teenager who is constrained by school when you can hire a 23 year old who can do weekday mornings and weekend shifts?
As long as college-educated twenty and thirty somethings are underemployed, teenagers will be unemployed. The first real step is making markets for college-educated babysitters and dog walkers to disappear.
I suspect that Immigration does reduce rates of teenage employment but there are value judgments here. I suspect that many immigrants come to the U.S. for economic reasons but I also think that many come because their lives are in danger in their home countries because they are members of persecuted minorities. In my mind, it is simply better to save the lives of persecuted minorities than it is to make sure teenagers have job opportunities at fast-food restaurants. Is this a judgment call? Yes but it is a trade-off I am willing to make.
I suspect issues 1 and 2 are the real killers of teenage jobs and issues that no one is really talking about.
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