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Seattle sees largest 3-month job loss in history: Thank $15 minimum wage hike

(Joe Ahlquist/Argus Leader via AP)

(Joe Ahlquist/Argus Leader via AP)

Summer employment for teenagers has been on a long decline, pushed down by minimum wage laws and the demand to impress on college applications.

“Since 1995 the rate of seasonal teenage employment has declined by over a third from around 55 percent to 34 percent in 2015,” Competitive Enterprise Institute Research Associate Jack Salmon writes.

That dramatic decline, a 38 percent change, was at the heart of a JP Morgan Chase & Co. report on teenage employment. Researchers looked at 15 cities to measure teen employment, and in Seattle at least, employment statistics make the minimum wage increase there look unwise.

“Seattle has experienced the largest 3 month job loss in its history last year, following the introduction of a $15 minimum wage,” Salmon notes. “We can only imagine the impact such a change has had on the prospects of employment for the young and unskilled.”

Correlation doesn’t imply causation, but the dramatic fall since the higher minimum wage took effect, coupled with rising payroll numbers and falling unemployment rates across the country, make Seattle’s performance an outlier. The full economic effects won’t be clear for a few years, as the $15 wage isn’t fully implemented until 2021, but the nine months of data available since the law passed in April 2015 haven’t been encouraging.

For the long-term decline, the minimum wage increase can be part of the explanation, but not all. For more, it’s necessary to think about college admissions and how they affect teenager behavior.

“Early work experiences play a critical role in healthy youth development. Through summer jobs, young people explore career options, discover personal interests and strengths, learn about work culture, build professional networks, develop skills and earn a paycheck,” the J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. report declares.

That’s uncontroversial. Teenagers earning a paycheck have a better awareness of how to make a budget, understand the expectations of employers, and have a perspective outside of the academic pressures they grew up in. To impress college admission officers, however, working at Wal-Mart or a local pizza parlor doesn’t deliver.

Admissions officers looking for a student’s “authentic voice,” interests and activities, and character and personality can sometimes overlook job experience. Students applying to competitive and prestigious institutions tend to accumulate volunteer work, extracurricular activities, and hobbies that crowd out job experience. When students have to compete to vault a high bar, the basic and foundational qualities gained from a summer job lose their luster.

Even when teenagers try to find work, it can be difficult. Especially in recent years with the recession, young and unskilled teenagers will be overlooked in favor of older workers with job experience. The unemployment rate is 4.9 percent for all Americans, but for teenagers, it’s 15.6 percent. College pressures and minimum wage hikes work in tandem to keep teens out of the workforce.

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