Study: Working in High School Leads to Higher Earnings Later

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A recent study says if you don’t work as a teen, you’ll likely earn less and find it more difficult to secure a job as an adult.

Teens used to spend their hours after school and their summer vacations flipping burgers, bagging groceries, mowing lawns, busing tables and washing dishes. It was an American rite of passage – one that’s slowly dying out.

According to The New York Times, 45 percent of American teens (ages 16 to 19) were working in 2000. In 2013, that number dropped to 25 percent.

Since 1948, the percentage of teenagers in the workforce had stayed relatively flat at 40 percent or so, dropping to 37 percent in the mid-1960s and rising to a high of 48.5 in 1979. But that trend began to reverse in the early 2000s and never rebounded, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The trend holds true when looking solely at summertime employment.

This is a trend with some unfortunate long-term implications. A recent study by the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program found that it’s more difficult to find a job as an adult if you didn’t work during your teen years. What’s more, the study said that people who joined the workforce as a teen earn 10 to 15 percent more than those who didn’t work, when they graduate from college.

The Times said there are several reasons why teens aren’t working these days:

  • Unable to find a job.
  • Participation in pre-college summer programs.
  • Summer school.
  • Year-round sports activities.
  • Community service work.
  • Unpaid internships.

The Brookings Institution’s study seems to confirm the findings of a study published by Drexel University’s Center for Labor Markets and Policy in 2013. The study said high school work experience not only corresponds to an increase in salary a decade later, it also predicts future employment as an adult. The study said:

While working certainly has the ability to bolster the consumption of teens and their families, working at an early age generates a set of additional and longer lasting benefits that are manifest in improved lifetime employment and earnings outcomes as well as improved educational attainment outcomes.

My first formal job (I started baby-sitting at age 11) was working at my hometown movie theater when I was 15. I worked there through high school. It paid minimum wage, but had a fun perk – free movies.

In addition to giving me the money to put gas in my car and buy makeup, clothes and other teenage girl stuff, that job also provided a glimpse of what my life would be like as an adult.

I had my first nerve-wracking job interview, worked side by side with a chauvinistic boss I didn’t like, dealt with customers who were upset that I didn’t put enough butter on their popcorn, had thousands of dollars pass through my hands in an hour as I sold hundreds of people their movie tickets, all while dealing with co-workers who were lazy or didn’t show up on time, if at all. It was great real-world experience.

What was the lasting value of your high school job? Share your thoughts below or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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