Summertime; the Livin’s (Not) Easy

Stuart Waldman
President, Valley Industry & Commerce Association

School’s out! Time for hot days at the beach, popsicles, cranky arguments with bored siblings and freedom. Not to mention a summer job for high school teens, a tradition as American as apple pie. Who else remembers that feeling of being handed their first paycheck?

Back in the dark ages, when I was a teen, nearly 60 percent of 16-19-year-olds picked up a few hours over the summer. During the rest of the year, around 45 percent of kids had some type of paid employment. Nowadays? That number is closer to 35 percent of teens working during the summer, and 29 percent working throughout the year.

I think that’s a problem.

It’s a problem for teens, who have fewer opportunities to make a couple bucks to help their families or reach a personal goal. It’s a problem for students, who are looking for experience in their industry of choice.

It’s a problem for graduates, who leave school without any understanding of expectations in the working world. It’s a problem for employers, who would often like to bring on extra help over the summer.

There are some people who will say that fewer teenagers working is a good thing, that they’re focusing on school and studying. I strongly disagree. Working a summer job teaches invaluable life lessons, and these lessons are equally important as academia.

Getting to age 19 without ever having held a paid job is a problem. But the reason why so many employers no longer offer summer jobs is even more alarming.

You’re businesspeople. You know how it is to hire. You can’t just offer a few hours, pay a few bucks, and no harm, no foul if it doesn’t work out. What’s the risk?

Well, the risk is going to be $14.25 an hour this summer in Los Angeles. Plus accrual of sick days if they’re there the whole summer. Plus workers’ compensation costs. Plus an hour’s training on sexual harassment, starting next year. Plus, plus, plus, until you know what? With all that time and money I just spent, I’d rather not take a risk on a young new hire.

Even more “pluses” are being considered by legislators and local elected officials. I get that many of these requirements are well-intentioned, I really do. But they’re fundamentally missing the point and the consequences for the region are severe.

Minimum wage jobs work for people who are starting out in the workforce, who are trying to pick up a few extra dollars, who need to get their foot in the door. It never will be enough to support a family.

But more and more adults are dependent on minimum wage jobs, and that’s a failure of our elected leaders.

Good jobs, the type of job where you can work a stable 40-hour week and bring home a decent living, are disappearing from Los Angeles. The unemployment numbers look okay, but that’s because our growing economy and aging population are leading to growth in lower-paid jobs such as home health aides and service jobs. We see that wages in Los Angeles are stagnating as manufacturing jobs that pay middle-class wages disappear.

Our elected officials are reacting to this change in the worst possible way, by trying to make hiring minimum-wage employees even more expensive. But that will lead to a downward spiral, as paying wages becomes more expensive than investing in automation.

So I implore our leaders: focus on the real problem. Focus on keeping and attracting middle-class jobs, the type that allows Angelenos to make a decent living and work a reliable shift. That way, the only people who will even want to apply for a minimum wage job are the only ones who should be: young people looking for their first summer job.

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