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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Should teens work more?

Desperate for entry-level workers, employers are pushing states to ease child-labor laws to let teenagers work longer hours, at younger ages and with less paperwork, writes Chris Marr and Rebecca Rainey for Bloomberg News. Arkansas won't require work permits for teens under 16. Iowa is debating a bill that would let teenagers work in factories and (with parental permission) serve liquor.

Pending bills include a Minnesota proposal to let 16- and 17-year-olds work construction jobs, an Ohio bill to extend the school-night cutoff two hours later to 9 p.m. for 14- and 15-year-olds, and a Georgia proposal to drop work permits for some minors.

A federal proposal to let 14- and 15-year-olds "work until 9 p.m. on school nights and work up to 24 hours per week during the school year" was introduced last year but didn't advance, write Marr and Rainey.

Working part-time after school used to be the norm for high school students, but workforce participation has dropped over the last generation. Only 37 percent of 16- to 19-year-olds are in the labor force, down from 50 percent in 1998, notes Jason L. Riley in the Wall Street Journal.

Now high school graduates are less likely to enroll in college, but few are prepared for skilled jobs -- or even for job training.

Working is good for teenagers, and they shouldn't have to wait till they're 16 to go beyond mowing lawns and babysitting, writes Timothy P. Carney, a Washington Examiner columnist and once a 14-year-old movie usher.

"When the labor market is so tight, and when American youth are deeply suffering from the lack of direction, connection, and purpose that the COVID lockdowns imposed on them, it makes perfect sense to reform labor law and give teenagers more opportunities," writes Carney.

Working is a path from "poverty," he argues. "When economist Raj Chetty studied dozens of local factors that correlated with upward mobility, teenage labor force participation proved more powerful than almost any other factor, even high school drop-out rates or violent crime rates."

Underage immigrants are working dangerous jobs in violation of child-labor laws, reports Hannah Dreier in the New York Times. Most came from Central America without their parents. "As more and more children have arrived, the Biden White House has ramped up demands on staffers to move the children quickly out of shelters and release them to adults. Caseworkers say they rush through vetting sponsors."

Most unaccompanied minors do not reunite with their parents, writes Dreier. "Far from home, many of these children are under intense pressure to earn money. They send cash back to their families while often being in debt to their sponsors for smuggling fees, rent and living expenses."

Federal workers lose track of many of the immigrants, she writes. "In interviews with more than 60 caseworkers, most independently estimated that about two-thirds of all unaccompanied migrant children ended up working full time."

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