AP's Story on Grim Teen Summer Job Outlook Nearly Invisible; Minimum Wage's Contribution to Problem Not Noted
You would think that a story about the awful summer job outlook for teens this year would be receiving more than a little media play. So far, it's not getting much at all.
Here are key paragraphs from the relevant unbylined Associated Press report ("Summer 2011 could be worst ever in teen job market, study finds"):
Teenagers unable to line up work this summer may not just be making excuses. A forecast warns that summer employment among teenagers, ages 16 to 19, continues to be weak, with about one in four expected to be working.
... Nationwide, 27 percent of teens are projected to have a job during the months of June, July and August, according to a recent estimate by Northeastern University's Center for Labor Market Studies in Boston.
That's slightly better than the 25.6 percent teen employment rate last summer, which was the lowest recorded since World War II. However, after several years of on-target forecasts, the center's modeling has yielded slightly more optimistic projections than the actual employment numbers in recent years. So the center acknowledges there's a distinct possibility that this summer could set a new record low for employment among the nearly 17 million teens.
During the summer of 2000, 45 percent of the nation's teens held summer jobs. The employment rate has declined sharply eight of the past 10 years, with post-World War II lows reached each of the past four summers.
From 2000 through 2010, employment rates for every age group of adults 54 and younger declined, the center says. The reductions were the most severe among teens, who frequently compete with jobless adults amid persistently high unemployment.
As is usual with so many AP reports, this one suffers from bias in date selection and in the determination of the relevant data (though to be fair, the study's authors may also be to blame).
The following graphic from Uncle Sam's Bureau of Labor Statistics using raw data (i.e., not seasonalized) shows that there were big drops in the teen employment-population ratio in 2001, 2002, and 2003. The rate stabilized and actually edged up during the next three years, declined again in 2007 and 2008, dropped like a rock in 2009, and dropped even further in 2010:
In other words, the ratio held steady while the economy prospered, the job market was growing, and the minimum wage was left alone. But in 2007, in one of the Democratic Congress's first official acts, "The minimum wage increased in three $0.70 increments--to $5.85 in July, 2007, $6.55 in July, 2008, and to $7.25 in July 2009." These increases deserve the presumptive blame for the 2007 and 2008 drops, while the third minimum-wage increment combined with recessionary conditions caused the disastrous 2009 drop.
When the AP report cites "the 25.6 percent teen employment rate last summer," it is unfortunately and erroneously referring to the seasonally adjusted values, which should not be used when comparing summertime employment rates across multiple years.
As to the story's visibility, Google News searches done on the report's first sentence (in quotes) at 11:45 p.m. ET returned 15 Google News results and 45 Google Web results. That's hardly a drop in the media bucket. Additionally, I did not find the story in a search on the AP's main web site on "teens" (not in quotes).
I daresay that if there were a Republican or conservative in the White House, this story about a group which President Obama desperately needs to turn out in his favor in 2012 in numbers similar to 2008 would be getting far more play.
To expand this post a bit beyond probable media bias, I'll add some other possible non-minimum-wage explanations as to why the teen employment-population ratio has dropped so much in the past decade, lifted from a column I wrote last year on the topic ("The Teenage Workplace Disengagement Epidemic"):
- More demanding high school activities, including sports and music — These have increasing encroached on summertime to the point where many teens could only work for a few weeks at most even if they wanted to.
- Overprotective parents who don’t want to expose their little darlings to the harsh, cruel world of work — With many teens, if you don’t push, it won’t happen. In many cases, no one’s pushing.
- Illegal immigration — Why would an employer hire a high school kid with an unproven work ethic when cheap, reliable help is otherwise available? Besides making it harder for teens who are looking for work, other teens don’t bother because they know they won’t get anywhere.
- Substantial penalties against working teens in college aid calculations — The higher a college-bound or college-attending teen’s earnings (and assets in their name), the higher a family’s Expected Family Contribution will be. This means, all other things being equal, that less financial aid will be available.
- A plethora of distractions which make it much easier to waste vast amounts of time accomplishing absolutely nothing while still not getting really bored — Video games, fantasy sports leagues, and the like would certainly fit into this category.
- Unpreparedness for work — This has to do with basic literacy, the ability to follow simple instructions, decorum, and attitude, all of which I have recently been told by several different employers continue to deteriorate, even among those who attend supposedly “good” schools.
I would be interested in seeing if there are any other factors readers feel are relevant to the problem.
Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.