Teen Unemployment and The Minimum Wage Study (2012)

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By Glenn Oppel, MPI Policy Director

As the Great Recession persists, unemployment remains a key concern in Montana and the nation as a whole. Although the jobs situation in Montana is somewhat better than the national average, the unemployment rate for working-age teens (16-19) is historically very high. Moreover, fewer and fewer teens are actually entering the workforce.

Figures provided by the U.S. Census Bureau demonstrate that teen employment prospects are dismal:

• Between 2006 and 2011, the teenage unemployment rate in Montana almost doubled from 10.2% to 19.4%. The highest rate for that period was 24% in 2010.

• Montana teens with less than a high school education have seen their unemployment rate double from 10.4% in 2006 to 20.8% in 2011.

• The average hours worked per week for Montana teens fell from 12.1 to 8 hours – a decrease
of 34%.

• The percentage of Montana teenagers who have a job declined from 48.2% in 2006 to 36.6%
in 2011.

• From 2006 to 2011, teen employment share in all industries dropped from 6.3% to 4.2%; in leisure and hospitality from 18.9% to 13.9%; in retail trade from 10.2% to 5.2%; and for all other services from 4% to 1.6%.

A recent analysis of state-specific employment effects of the minimum wage finds that increases in the federal and state minimum wage rates have accelerated this trend. According to simulations run as part of this analysis, increases in the minimum wage from the base of $5.15 in 2006 to $7.35 in 2011 cost Montana teenagers 1,178 jobs . Teen jobless rates could get even worse as Montana’s minimum wage is adjusted annually to the Consumer Price Index (CPI) despite job market realities or unemployment trends. Montana’s 2012 minimum wage rate is currently $7.65 and will increase to $7.80 in 2013 if the CPI continues to hover at close to two percent.

Minimum wage proponents may see annual increases as “raises” to poorer workers. What they fail to realize is that minimum wage increases serve as a tax on employers that would otherwise employ more low or unskilled workers if not for higher labor costs. This is especially true for working-age teens as our issue brief will show. Policymakers in Washington, DC and Helena should consider the disproportionate impact that minimum wage increases have on our youth as they struggle to find their first job.