SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Opinion

March 31, 2014

Column: Put teens to work by laying off minimum wage rhetoric

(Continued)

Yes, federal law allows for teens to be paid just $4.25 an hour for the first 90 days with an employer. But those jobs can’t displace regular workers, or even reduce their hours or benefits. And a higher minimum wage for them will make it less likely that businesses will be able to take on teens for the summer.

As President Obama casts about for anything to distract the public from the disastrous rollout and expensive realities of his signature health care program, we have all been hearing in recent months that an increase in the minimum wage will have only positive effects.

A government-mandated increase of 20 to 30 percent or more in the minimum wage will, Obama and these politicians contend, give lower-wage workers more money to spend, which they will immediately feed into the economy, creating even more jobs as businesses hire more workers to keep up with increased demand. The economy will spiral upward to prosperity and full employment.

Right. The reality is, year after year, cities and states spend millions on “summer jobs programs” and lay guilt trips on businesses for not being good corporate citizens because they don’t want to spend extra money pretending they have three-month jobs for low-skilled workers.

Yet, every year, youth unemployment gets worse — to the point that some economists describe it as a crisis on the level of the Great Depression.

It is definitely a problem. Summer jobs for teens are a good thing for obvious reasons: It gives them something productive to do, rather than being idle. It teaches them responsibility — to show up on time, do a job, work with others and, in many cases, learn how to deal with customers.

Yes, a little bit of money is nice, but that is not the most important thing — not even close. My summer job at a camp when I was a teen paid next to nothing. In retrospect, I figure I should have been paying them for the apprenticeship I received. It had far more long-term value than an artificially inflated wage.

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