Hire Teenagers: A Solution to Joblessness in America

By Patricia Johnson

At the recent LinkedIn-sponsored town hall meeting, President Obama stated that we must “make sure your neighbors and friends also have jobs.”

I’ve got a suggestion that doesn’t cost much, doesn’t need a government agency to run it, and could help reinvigorate our cities: hire teenagers.

Nationally, youth unemployment hovers around 20 percent. In neighborhoods where low-income African American and Latino youth are the majority, unemployment approaches 40 percent for people under 24 years of age.

I teach at Game Theory Academy, a nonprofit I founded to make economic education more relevant, and accessible to marginalized youth. In our classroom conversations, we discuss topics such as how the economy works, how students can act in their own best interest, and the opportunity costs of doing nothing, rather than working or pursuing education. Students often ask me, “Hey, Trish, can you find me a job?”

Among students at Game Theory Academy, a shocking 63 percent report not having any kind of part-time job. When I was 15, I got a job at a local real-estate office answering phones. I worked at a copy shop the summer before college. But it’s not the 90s anymore, and businesses don’t hire teens the way they used to.

The receptionist answering the phones at the local real estate office is easily twice the age I was when I did that job. I’ve never seen a teen at the register at the copy shop near my office. Adults need those jobs too: but could they use some support from an eager teen?

The U.S. Small Business Administration reports that small businesses generated 64 percent of all jobs created in the last 15 years. If they are the engine for growth, then small businesses are in the best position to take the lead on ending youth unemployment.

Back of the envelope: if a local, small business hires one teenager for ten hours per week at ten bucks an hour, the cost is about $100 per week, plus some supervision expenses. Assuming 50 weeks of work in the year, that costs $5,000 and change.

Oakland, where I am based, is home to 25,000 youth ages 15 to 19, and at least 10,000 small businesses. If each of those businesses hired one job-seeking teenager, we could make a huge dent in that 40 percent youth unemployment number. Do the math in any city, and it’ll add up.

What impact will this have?

Youth are local spenders. They ride the bus. They buy snacks and go to movies. If our young workforce spends in Oakland and nearby cities, that’s estimated to be close to $500 in annual sales tax revenue per youth – or $6 million total. Imagine the effect if cities in every state joined this call to action.

A majority of juvenile crimes are property crimes. Teens who earn money have less incentive to steal and deal drugs. A paycheck shifts the risk-reward ratio. They are too busy. They have money in their pockets and a sense of opportunity.

Teens who work are more likely to find and sustain jobs as they age into adulthood. Studies show that unemployment as a youth leads to a lifetime of lower wages. It also lowers life expectancy. Give youth jobs now, and they will have higher lifetime earning potential – and the habit of employment and better health. Once you’ve had a job, you want another one.

Dust off an apron or a clipboard and invest $5,000 in our nation’s youth, and in your own business. They might surprise you with the value they add.

Patricia Johnson is the Director of the California Council on Youth Relations and the founder of Game Theory Academy.

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October 13, 2011  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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