Do We Want Teen Employment to Increase?

Moneybox
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

The Slatest

Ben Bradlee Dead at 93

The legendary Washington Post editor presided over the paper’s Watergate coverage.

This Scene From All The President’s Men Captures Ben Bradlee’s Genius

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Whole Foods Is Desperate for Customers to Feel Warm and Fuzzy Again

The XX Factor

I’m 25. I Have $250.03.

My doctors want me to freeze my eggs.

The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I’m 25. I Have $250.03. My doctors want me to freeze my eggs.
Technocracy

Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

George Tiller’s Murderer Threatens Another Abortion Provider, Claims Free Speech

The Congressional Republican Digging Through Scientists’ Grant Proposals

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 21 2014 3:13 PM Why Countries Make Human Rights Pledges They Have No Intention of Honoring
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 21 2014 5:57 PM Soda and Fries Have Lost Their Charm for Both Consumers and Investors
  Life
The Vault
Oct. 21 2014 2:23 PM A Data-Packed Map of American Immigration in 1903
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 21 2014 3:03 PM Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 21 2014 1:02 PM Where Are Slate Plus Members From? This Weird Cartogram Explains. A weird-looking cartogram of Slate Plus memberships by state.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 21 2014 9:42 PM The All The President’s Men Scene That Perfectly Captured Ben Bradlee’s Genius
  Technology
Technology
Oct. 21 2014 5:38 PM Justified Paranoia Citizenfour offers a look into the mind of Edward Snowden.
  Health & Science
Climate Desk
Oct. 21 2014 11:53 AM Taking Research for Granted Texas Republican Lamar Smith continues his crusade against independence in science.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.