Are immigrants stealing summer jobs from American teens?

Are immigrants stealing summer jobs from your kids? This article from today’s Washington Post asks, “what happened to summer jobs?” and seeks an answer.

The data discussed below are inconclusive.  Not surprisingly, the Center for Immigration Studies, always on the lookout for another reason to blame immigrants, is certain that immigrants have been gobbling up the jobs that Beaver and Wally Cleaver once occupied during the summer months.  There is no doubt that some summer employment, like grass-cutting, has been overtaken by professional landscaping companies which admittedly, are probably a major employer of undocumented labor.

The other issue listed here is summer school. More teens, apparently are attending summer school
than in past years.  I find this curious.  Why?

What is not discussed here is something that I’ve observed in my own neighborhood: a lot of parents don’t want their kids to work.  My kids are early teens, and they have small babysitting and lawn mowing businesses.  But a lot of their friends are not only not interested in working, their parents have told me that they’re simply not allowed.  With babysitting, there is a fear that daughters and sons will be vulnerable to a lecherous parent, something I have tried to mitigate by visiting the parents and homes of prospective employers before my kids head out to babysit. 

Another reason I’ve heard is that parents are afraid their kids will get distracted by work and not put their full effort into their studies.  That seems reasonable to me, but in the summer?  If the kid isn’t in school, won’t they have enough free time to pick up 10 20 hours a week working?

Finally, I’ve also heard parents say that they don’t want their kids working because they don’t want them to have too much money.  With money they may be tempted to buy booze, drugs or cigarettes. That, too, is a legitimate concern, but only if they child in question does not have adequate parental supervision.  I keep track of how much money my kids have coming in, and they are required (yes, REQUIRED) to save 66% of their earnings.  We have savings accounts where we make regular deposits, and we don’t keep cash around the house.  If fact, if you were to comb my house right now, you’d be lucky to find $5 cash. 

The kids are allowed to take the other 33% and spend it on what they like: clothes, guitars, music, make-up, etc. 

My point in all of this, is that I think a lot of kids between the ages of 16-19 are not working because their parents don’t encourage them  to do so.  In my neighborhood, I think it’s a matter of parental pride, “my kids don’t have to work–I support them.”  I think it’s a part of being middle or just slightly above middle class.  My peers don’t want people to think they don’t have enough money to buy their kids the things they want.

But at the same time, they’re coddling kids and prevent them from understanding the value of work and money.  Yes, I watch my kids’ money like an involved parent.  However, they’re still pretty young.  My hope is that by the time they reach their late teens this won’t be necessary.  Thus working and saving is part of the lesson, which I hope to make a habit.  I also want my kids to understand that the night at the movies or those 30 iTunes downloads are not just materializing out of thin air, but they equal 2 hours of watching rambunctious toddlers or mowing 2 lawns. 

Most suburban parents are not going to have the wealth to float their kids economically when they finish college.  The kids are going to have to learn to do it themselves.  I personally think it’s better to learn those things now, when the stakes are not so high, then to wait until junior is in his or her mid-twenties and can run up their credit cards, get overburdened with car and house debt, or declare bankruptcy. 

Call it the case of the missing summer jobs.

According to Northeastern University economist Andrew Sum, only a third of American 16- to 19-year-olds had a job last summer, the lowest level on record and down from 52 percent a decade ago. The decline began long before the current economic crisis, so high unemployment is not the only culprit. But the question of who is to blame has launched your classic Washington think tank skirmish.
First up, Steven Camarota, a researcher at the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors tighter restrictions on immigration. In a paper released last month, he points a finger at (yes) immigrants, who often fill the types of low-skill jobs that teenagers have traditionally held.

But in reviewing Camarota’s paper, Heidi Shierholz, an economist at the liberal Economic Policy Institute, spotted what she considered a glaring omission. “He didn’t mention rising summer school enrollment,” she told me last week. “It’s this massive trend that he just didn’t talk about.”

Shierholz put out a brief critiquing Camarota’s argument: “CIS Analysis of Immigration’s Impact on Youth Employment Omits Key Facts.” She argued that increased summer school attendance more than accounted for the decline in teen employment.

After what a post on the EPI Web site describes as “friendly discussions,” the dueling researchers reached a detente. Shierholz now reckons that summer school accounts for only around a third of the overall decline. Camarota, for his part, concedes that school enrollment might be playing some role. “It wouldn’t be plausible if the whole story is immigration,” he told me.

In other words, the mystery remains. Other suspects: older workers who aren’t retiring as quickly as expected; increases, in some states, in the minimum wage; and that old standby, changing values.

One thing everyone agrees on? Summer jobs, if they can be found, don’t pay anything like they used to. “When I was a teenager in the early ’80s in New Jersey,” Camarota said, “It was not uncommon for a hard job to pay $7 an hour, which would be about $15 an hour now. Now nobody, under any circumstances, pays a teenager $15 an hour.” 

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