Exclusive — Study: 40 States Require Government Permits for Teenage Employment, Overriding Parents

A business openly advertises work opportunities.
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A study from the Foundation for Government Accountability (FGA) found 40 states require government work permits for teenage job-seekers that have the power to override parental decision-making.

In the study exclusively provided to Breitbart News, 21 states require youth job-seekers to go through a public school district, 15 require a permit from the state’s labor department, and four require both. A denial of a permit has the power to override a parent who has made the decision that getting a job is in the best interest of their child.

While the purpose of the study is not to advocate for filling open positions with teenage labor, the FGA points out that “teenagers learn invaluable life lessons like responsibility, time management, and personal finance” when employed.

Federal law regulating child labor does not require the permitting scheme, but “many states have created an unnecessary hurdle in which teenagers need to obtain permission from their school before getting a job—effectively leaving the decision to school administrators,” according to the study. FGA Research Analyst Lauren McCarthy, an author of the study, told Breitbart News that the permitting can affect both part-time and volunteer opportunities.

In some states, the permitting process can require that a child receive a physical examination from a doctor before a permit is issued.

“State lawmakers should eliminate youth work permits to end the influence given to school administrators and restore the decision-making rights to students and their parents,” McCarthy said.

Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania have very strict permitting laws, according to the study. In Michigan, teenagers must obtain work permits each time they switch jobs, even during the summer and for unpaid volunteer work. “If it’s midway through the summer, if they decide to change from an ice cream job to lifeguard go back and get a whole new permission slip,” McCarthy pointed out. 

Ohio is one of the states that requires a physician’s certificate indicating a teenager is “physically fit to be employed,” and Pennsylvania requires even minors who have already graduated high school to receive a work permit.

The FGA study found both that “teenagers are a critical source of workers for businesses struggling to find help” and that teenagers are “opting to join the workforce at record high rates.”

During the summer of 2021, the teenage unemployment rate remained below ten percent for those aged 16 to 19 — a rate that “had not been lower since 1953, when it was 8.6 percent.” The study found more than 32 percent of teenagers were employed.

When asked why so many teenagers joined the workforce in 2021, McCarthy pointed to two phenomena: the unemployment rate in general was high, opening up more opportunities for teenagers who were much less involved with extracurricular activities at their schools, and employers were offering incentives specifically to teenage employees.

Both corporate employers and small businesses have incentives. As the study points out, “Walmart offers free college prep courses and college credits to its high school employees.” Publix Super Markets has a retention rate of managers who started as teenagers at 33 percent.

Some small businesses are adding in a paid homework hour for teenage employees. A Hot Springs Village, Arkansas, restaurant, Xplore Lakeside, and a Saratoga Springs, New York, restaurant, Hattie’s Restaurant, have both implemented the paid homework scheme.

“I think most states would argue that was the legislators intent when they created these laws that are trying to think about the well being of the child,” McCarthy explained. “Anytime you look at any sort of laws pertaining to children, you’re going to hear the phrase best interests of the child.” 

But the best interest of the child, FGA maintains, is not up to the government, but rather the child’s parents. 

“Getting a school’s permission to work that even though a parent or guardian has already signed off on it is completely unnecessary,” McCarthy told Breitbart News. “And it’s irrelevant for a teenager to have to go into school and ask permission to get a job that has nothing really to do with their education.”

Breccan F. Thies is a reporter for Breitbart News. You can follow him on Twitter @BreccanFThies.

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