NYTimes: Where Are the Working Teenagers?

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On Friday, The New York Times seemed completely bewildered by the plummeting rate of teenagers in the workforce. The Times observes, “Since 2000, the share of 16-to-19-year-olds who are working has plummeted by 40 percent, with fewer than a third of American teenagers in a job last summer.”

The Times further points out that this is a low point in historical terms for the workforce’s share of youngsters.

Minimum wage statutes have passed in a large number of states in recent years, driving young people out of the workforce; Obamacare has made it easy to obtain health insurance by not working; and companies simply don’t have the time and cash available to train fresh workers.

Nonetheless, the Times finds the phenomenon of unemployed teenagers utterly baffling:

Experts are struggling to figure out exactly why…

What is clear is that those who need a job the most are often the least likely to get one. To a large extent, the higher a household’s income, the more likely a teenager is to get a job. Suburbanites have a better shot than city dwellers, and white teenagers face far better odds than blacks…

Yes, racism, as always, is the Times’s answer. Well, racism and the proliferation of summer school, as well as the prevalence of summer vacation. Oh yes, and, as always, the need for more government spending: “the decline in government support for summer jobs has been steep.” The Times quotes New York City’s acting assistant commissioner of youth workforce development, who says, “The federal government has walked away from summer jobs nationally.”

The gall of the federal government! If only New York City had a socialist mayor willing to increase taxes to skyrocket local spending. Oh, wait.

But the Times’s lamentation continues:

The absence of work means more than having no money for a mobile phone or a night out with friends. A summer job can provide essential experience that is crucial to snagging better jobs later, experts say…

The drop-off in summer jobs for teenagers is an echo of the outsize drop in overall teenage employment year round. And it is one of several puzzling changes in the American labor force.

Across nearly every group, the share of people — men in particular — without a paying job has been on the rise. The United States, which once boasted of having one of the highest labor force participation rates among advanced industrialized nations, is now languishing far behind.

The lack of summer jobs is only puzzling if you are completely invested in the success of President Obama’s economic program. Workforce participation rates are now at three-decade lows. That’s because Obama’s spending programs have misdirected resources, stifled job growth, and driven companies to save rather than hire. It’s because Obama’s allies at state and local levels have increased restrictions on hiring, making it less cost effective to give people a shot while they’re still in high school or fresh out of it.

But no matter! The riddle may never be solved. Unless, of course, the Times convinces the feds to spend more money. The Soviet Union, after all, had 100 percent teenage workforce participation.


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