Kids working to pay their bills or paying for junk?

Compiled by Lewis Loflin

We have the story of a Tennessee High senior named Amanda Glass who works up to 30 hours a week at a Little Caesar's in Bristol. She works until 11 p.m. on weekdays, later on weekends. She is part of the vast part-time cheap-labor workforce so in demand by local business. These employers know their low pay scales make it impossible to support a household, so they seek those that don't need to support one.

Teenagers like Amanda are in hot demand, at least until they graduate school and get fired or have their hours cut. "Nearly" full-time with no benefits is fine in school, but problems arise when they need a full time job and really need to earn a living. A U.S. Census report estimated that 2.9 million students between the ages of 15 and 17 work while in school. To business, the effect on their grades or sanity is not an issue. Nor is Amanda likely to be saving for college or supporting a family. Most of her money will be spent on car payments, cell phones, and CDs.

They're working too many hours and it's not about their future. To quote Ed Lockett, a Tennessee High art teacher, "They're working too long and too late...They come into school dead-dog tired because they didn't get in bed until midnight....Teachers regularly battle students' fatigue and their inability to focus on the day's lesson. It's a trend that has become more noticeable in recent years...because stores require students to stay late." How many times have I gone to Wall-Mart and found 15-year-olds working?

According to the press, Amanda's monthly bills consists of "$150 for her Suzuki Esteem, $100 for her insurance, $107 for her phone and $80 for her gas. Before she even budgets money for eating out or movies, she has more than $400 in bills." Her social life is a wreck, "I can't talk to my friends a lot because I'm working."

Teachers scoff at students cars, "Cars are very important status symbols for these kids, and that's what they work for...It all revolves around the car. All the kids want a car for their independence and freedom. There's more pressure to have a better and nicer car." It's about cell phones, cars, and status. What these reports don't bring out is these kinds of low-class jobs often introduce kids to smoking and sometimes drugs. Many of the adult workers/others are smokers and these kids often fall into it. Go to any "fast food" joint and watch what they do on break.

To quote information from the Daytona Dailey News April 28, 2006,

Quoting the Bristol Herald Courier, In a survey of a junior and senior-level Tennessee High economics class, 61 percent of the students in the 19-person class have jobs that require working until or past midnight. The same percentage said they had part-time jobs during the school year, and only four people in the class said they had never worked. More than half of the students said working late had caused them to fall asleep in class, a percentage that educators said bothered them. Nearly all of the teachers interviewed didn't mind that their students work; they mind that it interferes with them learning.

Teachers see grades slipping, but students don't care. Quoting one student from Sullivan East High School senior John Richman, "I used to be a very good student. My grades were affected by the jobs. It's hard to balance all three." He has two jobs, at Arby's and Waffle House and works nearly 40-hour weeks.

Amanda also admits exhaustion because she works so much she picks out her clothes the night before. "I get tired, and I don't have time to do homework. I do as much as I can and I turn it in." Some parent like this "because it teaches them responsibility." But is this really being responsible? Amanda claims to have learned responsibility and how to handle money at minimum wage. She fell behind in her car payments.

According to Little Caesar's store manager (her boss) Alan Clyburn, he tries to work with students to give them the hours they need to pay their bills. "Almost all the kids who work here have cell phones and cars. They're here because they want the extra money." His only gripe seems to be they can't come until 3 p.m.

Ref. BHC Apr 25, 2004 and an extract from

Working Teenagers: Do After-School Jobs Hurt?

High schoolers who work more than 20 hours a week may be at higher risk for failure.

Negative Effects of Work: As one of the first to investigate the effect of part-time jobs on academic success and aspirations, Steinberg has examined indicators such as academic achievement, class attendance, time spent on homework, and attitudes toward school among both working and non-working students.

In most cases, he says, the working student is at a disadvantage, with negative effects increasing with the number of hours worked. "Students who work longer hours report diminished engagement in schooling, lowered school performance, increased psychological distress, higher drug and alcohol use, higher rates of delinquency, and greater autonomy from parental control," says Steinberg.

For example, in a 1991 survey of 4,000 high schoolers in California and Wisconsin, the more hours worked, the steeper the drop in grade point averages and amount of time spent on homework. At the same time, students working more than 20 hours reported using drugs and alcohol 33 percent more often than their non-employed classmates.

They also experienced greater psychological symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and fatigue. The emerging consensus among researchers, says Steinberg, is that the negative effects of employment are linked to how much, not whether, a student works.

This view has been confirmed most recently in a 1997 study by David Stern, director of the National Research Center for Vocational Education at UC Berkeley. Stern looked at the body of research conducted on working teens over the past 20 years, separating the surveys into two groups: one that included students who worked fewer than 15 hours a week, and one including those who worked more.

In this latter group, he found 10 studies that reported students working 15 hours or more had lower grades, did less homework, had higher dropout rates, and were less likely to go to college. Only three found no negative effects. "The preponderance of evidence indicates that students who work more than 15 to 20 hours a week while in high school perform less well academically," he concluded.

Is Work a Symptom?

At first glance, Stern says, it may appear that working long hours causes students to earn lower grades, but he stops short of making that claim: "Is it a question of cause and effect, or just some kind of spurious correlation?" he asks. "It could well be that this is just a selection process that's going on, where some kids are heading off to work and putting school behind. It may be that those who are more interested in work, work more."

That's a suspicion shared by researcher Jerald Bachman, an investigator with the University of Michigan's Monitoring the Future Project, which surveyed 70,000 high school seniors. Bachman wondered if the students getting into trouble after working long hours were the same students who would run into problems at school anyway.

He looked at their grades before entering the work force, their plans for college, and whether they had ever been held back a grade. He found students with low GPAs, no college plans, and a record of retention were more likely to choose a job with longer hours...

After-school Jobs Get a Bad Review

Sure, a teenager who works part-time may be learning something about responsibility, punctuality, and money management. But studies show that when teens work for 20 hours or more a week (as nearly half of U.S. 12th graders do during the school year), the job isn't just good practice for the future. Overworked teens sacrifice sleep and exercise, spend less time with their families, and cut back on homework.

That's not even the worst of it: A 1998 report by the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine shows that students who worked 15 hours a week had lower grades, higher dropout rates, and were less likely to go to college. Most of these hardworking teens get jobs in the retail industry, with more than half employed in restaurants and grocery stores. A quarter of young workers are employed in the health-care industry, while 8% work in agriculture.

Too Many Hours: Soon, teens may not be the ones deciding how many hours a week they want to sell sweater sets or flip flapjacks: A panel of labor experts has recommended that Congress give the U.S. Department of Labor the authority to limit the number of hours worked during the school year by youngsters under age 18.

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