Do We Want Teen Employment to Increase?

A blog about business and economics.
Jan. 22 2014 2:44 PM

Do We Want Teen Employment to Increase?

457062471-clients-order-their-meal-at-a-burger-king-store-in
Your way, right away.

Photo by Thomas Samson/AFP/Getty Images

Tyler Cowen, who hates minimum-wage increases, offers a chart purporting to demonstrate that minimum-wage hikes have reduced teen employment. Kevin Drum, who loves minimum-wage increases, is not convinced. Of course, in general, nobody changes their mind about anything as well-aired in the political sphere as the minimum wage and time-series data of the sort deployed by Kevin Erdmann to make the chart is typically the least-persuasive kind of evidence.

Still this raised another question in my mind: Are we trying to maximize teenage employment?

The framing of the debate suggests that if minimum-wage hikes suppress teen employment that would be a bug. But I was under the impression that the long-term trend toward a lower teenage labor force participation rate (which is clearly happening regardless of the ups and downs of the minimum wage) was something public policy is trying to encourage. After all, policymakers from both parties are pushing longer school days and shorter summer vacations. We've done a lot to encourage more people to go to college. We seem to be pushing more extracurricular activities on high schoolers. Obviously once upon a time it was common for 14-year-olds to be working full time. But as America became richer and the economy became more education-intensive, we got early teens out of the labor force and into school. These days nobody is talking about amending child labor laws to ban 17-year-olds from working, but it seems to me that we're pretty clearly trying to nudge older teens out of the labor force and into schooling.

Advertisement

Now perhaps this is a huge mistake. But if it's a huge mistake, it's much bigger than the minimum wage. And actually the minimum-wage angle could be patched pretty quickly. Jordan Weissmann recently wrote about Australia where the minimum wage is higher than in the United States, but there's a special low teenage minimum wage. As a result, Australia gets a segmented labor market where low-productivity sectors like fast food rely heavily on a short-term teen labor force. The idea, obviously, is that Australia wants teenagers to work—at very low wages if necessary—as part of its larger vision of how Australian society and the Australian economy should look.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Don’t Worry, Obama Isn’t Sending U.S. Troops to Fight ISIS

But the next president might. 

IOS 8 Comes Out Today. Do Not Put It on Your iPhone 4S.

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

How Much Should You Loathe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?

Here are the facts.

Amazon Is Launching a Serious Run at Apple and Samsung

Television

Slim Pickings at the Network TV Bazaar

Three talented actresses in three terrible shows.

Foreigners

More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

The Ungodly Horror of Having a Bug Crawl Into Your Ear and Scratch Away at Your Eardrum

We Could Fix Climate Change for Free. Now There’s Just One Thing Holding Us Back.

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 17 2014 7:03 PM Once Again, a Climate Policy Hearing Descends Into Absurdity
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
  Life
Outward
Sept. 17 2014 6:53 PM LGBTQ Luminaries Honored With MacArthur “Genius” Fellowships
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 17 2014 6:14 PM Today in Gender Gaps: Biking
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 17 2014 8:25 PM A New Song and Music Video From Angel Olsen, Indie’s Next Big Thing
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 7:23 PM MIT Researchers Are Using Smartphones to Interact With Other Screens
  Health & Science
Jurisprudence
Sept. 17 2014 4:49 PM Schooling the Supreme Court on Rap Music Is it art or a true threat of violence?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.