Teens need jobs, too
‘You know how old I was when I started working,” my dad asked me.
“How old were you,” I wondered.
“I was 13! ’Bout time I got to your age I had 2 jobs,” he said, with a smile from ear to ear.
Dad boasted about all the jobs he had, as a teenager. But why aren’t things still this way?
Today’s youth struggle to find work. Those who are paid to cut grass or shovel snow seem to be the lucky ones. According to the Employment Policies Institute, as of 2013, Michigan’s teen unemployment rate had been above 20 percent every summer since 2009.
Since then, numbers have climbed. Due to a hike in the federal minimum wage, many companies prefer to hire more experienced employees. What’s more, the state of the economy also plays a big role in teen unemployment. In 2008, unemployment rates had risen to 7.3 percent, leaving 11.1 million people jobless — including teens.
Many Americans were in need of a source of income, therefore seeking work in fast-food restaurants seemed feasible. But fast-food jobs and the like are typically better suited to teens. They are designed to provide young people with not only work experience, but the ability to interact in a business setting.
There was a time when minimum wage jobs were filled with young people just starting out in the workforce; now there’s a lot of overqualified people trying to make ends meet. Some might say that adults need these jobs more than young people. But without more of these opportunities available, many young people lack independence and optimism.
These days there aren’t a lot of reasons for young people to stay optimistic about the job market. The “Fight for 15” movement has gained some momentum, and was even adopted by the Democratic Party in its 2016 platform, but a drastic hike like that would mean a hiring squeeze for teens. Youth unemployment would rise.
And inner-city teens would be hit the hardest. The Social Science Research Council found in 2013 that Detroit, for instance, had “the highest youth unemployment rate (30 percent) and adult unemployment rate (17 percent) of any of the 25 largest metro areas.” There’s a big disconnect between young people and employment, especially within the African-American community.
Jarrett Skorup, who is a policy analyst at Mackinac Center for Public Policy, recently explained to me how Detroit is a major city with high taxes, so there are many licenses and qualifications a business must have.
A good example is when a close friend and I were job hunting in the mall.
Many of the fast-food establishments required that employees be 18 years or older, due to the machinery they use. But what is the difference between a 17-year-old and an 18-year-old?
On top of companies not hiring, there aren’t many opportunities elsewhere for teens. When I was placed in an internship at The Detroit News, my counselor told me, “India, no other high schools in Detroit offer opportunities like this. Take advantage of it.”
It’s terrible that Detroit students miss out on opportunities that can ultimately shape their future. An internship can be one solution to teen unemployment. Not only does it provide professional experience, but it gives students a free sample of adulthood.
“Minimum wage jobs are not about the money, they are about the experience,” Skorup told me.
If young people don’t have that foundational experience, we won’t be able to build a house of success.
India Allen, 17, is a rising senior at Voyageur College Prep High School in Detroit. She interned with The Detroit News in July.