Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Big jobs usually go to the men who prove their ability to outgrow small ones.” Thanks to government meddling, however, many teenagers haven’t had the chance to prove themselves in even the smallest jobs.
Despite claims that youngsters of the 21st century are lacking in work ethic and self-motivation, that they are inferior to their predecessors is thus far highly debatable; what is certain, however, is that federal restrictions (child labor laws, the minimum wage, and twelve-year compulsory school attendance) make it exceedingly difficult for teenagers to launch a career, get a starter job, or become an entrepreneur. The effects of Washington’s arbitrary redistribution and intervention fall disproportionately on young adults—allegedly for whose sake many of these harmful regulations were put in place.
Child Labor Laws
Perhaps the most blatantly age-discriminatory interventionist contrivances are “child” labor laws. A teen’s primetime for an after-school job might be in his freshman or sophomore years, when school load is lighter yet he is mature enough to function well and gain practical experience in workplace situations. Yet until age eighteen work hours, schedules, breaks, fields, occupations, roles, and more are micromanaged. A great deal of teenagers anticipate their sixteenth or seventeenth birthdays, when some of the restrictions are relaxed, only to realize when they reach those milestones that they no longer have time for part-time work.
An unnecessary fixture in a developed economy and a harmful one in an undeveloped counterpart, child labor laws limit modern teenagers’ ability to test the flavors and atmospheres of occupations, assess their potential performance in a given field, gain important workplace experience, and earn extra money.
Minimum Wage Laws
Combine this with the minimum wage, the price-fixing of labor that unskilled workers either love or hate, and teenagers have a real problem.
Teens are almost always unskilled and inexperienced, sometimes lack maturity, typically have little practical knowledge, and no matter what job they can get, they probably need training. Employing teenagers is costly. Coercive government-mandated increases in the price of a good or service always result in surpluses of the aforementioned goods or services, and wage rates are no exception. Price-fixing negates or damages the mutually beneficial status of an exchange, and in this scenario it makes teenagers (and other low-skill laborers) very unattractive employees for their legally required per-hour prices.
The Twelve-Year Sentence
If by some miracle or black magic a school-age teenager trumps child labor laws and minimum wage price-fixing and worms his way into a meaningful job he enjoys (i.e., likely not fast food), he has another problem: compulsory school attendance. Schedules are not flexible, hours are long, and there are few alternatives.
The one-size-fits-all, federal-driven public schools require credits for all students that may or may not have anything to do with a student’s career choice or interests; these classes often include theater, music, art appreciation, P.E., or a whole slough of social sciences biased toward totalitarianism. Homeschooling and private schooling are legally permissible options: however, in the very probable case that resources are limited or prices are high (thanks to government control of education markets,) these are impossible.
Cut the Regulations.
Without federal coercion, the teen years could be more productive, enlightening, involving, and growth-centered. Instead, teenagers are viewed as problematic adolescents that cannot do much of anything for themselves; and while this is a cultural and governmental phenomenon, state intervention uses legal force to help perpetuate the myth that teenagers can be little more than internet addicts or thick-skulled sports aficionados.
Even if 21st-century teenagers are or will be “worthless bums” who refuse to start their adult lives until age 29, Washington’s overwhelming initiative-choking benevolence is making it harder and harder for teens and young adults to transcend their unflattering societal reputations and launch a successful career. In the end, the answer lies not in cutting back on these detrimental laws but in abolishing altogether the system that created them.