In Family Support

by Kerry McDonald

Should teens have jobs?

Back in April, I shared that my 16-year-old daughter, Molly, got her first part-time job working at a busy coffee shop here in Cambridge. She absolutely loves it. She looks forward to her shifts, where she gets to meet customers from all around the world and work with interesting colleagues, many of whom are also on the edge of adulthood with wide possibilities ahead of them. She returns home energized and fulfilled. I told her that I hope she always feels this way about her work. I know I do.

When I mentioned to Molly that I was going to be interviewed for a CNBC video about how youth employment regulations protect teens from exploitation, she laughed. From her perspective, these regulations are silly, sometimes arbitrarily limiting the hours she can work or preventing her from doing certain tasks, such as closing the shop, even when she may be the most experienced and capable employee on shift.

Far from being exploitative, teen jobs can be incredibly empowering, helping young people to gain experience, skills, and exposure to new people and perspectives.

That was the point I tried to make in the 11-minute CNBC story that was just released on Friday. You can watch it here.

I defended the states that have recently loosened youth employment laws, including New Jersey, Iowa, Ohio, and Arkansas. These actions enable teens to work longer hours if they choose, assume additional responsibilities if they are able, and avoid certain bureaucratic hoops, such as applying for a work permit for government permission to get a job.

I wrote more about the benefits of repealing youth employment regulations in this article, including explaining how headlines that refer to child labor violations are often misleading. This was certainly the case in the story of two 10-year-olds that were found working late at night at a fast food restaurant chain. The CNBC producer mentioned this incident in the video, despite me pointing out during our interview that these 10-year-olds were the children of the night manager who were visiting their parent—perhaps the only time of the day they might enjoy with a parent who works long hours.

Overall though, I thought the CNBC story was thoughtful and well-balanced, enabling me to argue in favor of loosening youth employment laws while allowing a University of San Diego professor to argue the opposite.

For Molly and millions of teens like her who gain so much from their first job, I hope my argument prevails.

Until next week,


Kerry McDonald

Senior Education Fellow
Foundation for Economic Education

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