The ethics of working as a teenager

It’s something you have likely thought about before. “Do I choose to get involved in a job for valuable workplace experience, or will it draw too much away from my other obligations?”

Even as someone who chose the latter, I view classmates who already have a job with respect and a degree of admiration. Not only is it a convenient way to earn money, but job openings for teenagers also make enticing promises of independence, preparation and proactivity.

However, youth jobs are notorious for getting exploited and underpaid. What’s worse, the government, despite its labor laws and standards, does not put enough emphasis on protecting child laborers. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, young workers are entitled to receive “safety and health training” and “exercise your workplace safety rights without retaliation or discrimination.” On top of this, the Fair Labor Standards Act disallows the employment of teenagers in jobs considered hazardous.

Nevertheless, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health indicated that workers from the age of 15-19 experienced a rate of injury 1.25 times greater than that for workers age 25 and over in 2017. It is true that teens, as a result of less experience, are more injury-prone, but the increased rate demonstrates the current inadequacy of young worker injury prevention plans. 

Furthermore, when we consider worker rights, wages often emerge as a crucial point. The California minimum wage at $12 per hour (as of Jan. 1, 2019) is higher than the $7.25 at the federal level, but the current minimum wage can only be described as lacking compared to the exorbitant costs of living in Southern California. For instance, the median home cost in California is $552,800, more than twice that of the U.S. average of $231,200. This problem is only heightened in regards to teenage workers. Federal law, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, allows employers to pay “$4.25 per hour… to employees under the age of 20 during their first 90 consecutive calendar days of employment” and depending on the situation minimum wage can be bypassed for 160 hours of “training work.” 

In a 2019 The Conversation study, 74 percent of respondents aged 11 to 17 years old from Queensland, Australia mentioned that they received some form of exploitation. In addition to economic exploitation, which ranked highest on the list, verbal harassment and bullying were also significant factors at 49 and 29 percent respectively. This, in line with other research, reinforces the rationale that young workers are less aware of safety workplace regulations and likely less inclined to report violations or unsafe work conditions.

This adverse environment in no way applies to every young worker. However, the mistreatment of teenage and inexperienced workers is far too noticeable and consequential to be left unattended to. With many attempts being made to remedy the situation being made by government entities with varying degrees of success, it should also fall into the responsibility of the people — teenage workers and employers alike — to mitigate this problem.

In the United States, our society puts a strong emphasis on the youth as we are essentially the nation’s future leaders and workers. 

It makes me wonder then, why do young workers not share that same spotlight?

By Ethan Park, Copy and Coverage Editor-in-chief
Photo courtesy of  Pixabay