The edit page at USA Today asked me to send over a couple sentences of comments on a column by Al Neuharth on whether students should play or work during the summer.
My two bits: “Real jobs can be an excellent antidote to some of the tripe students hear in classrooms. Doing onerous work or dealing with a dictatorial boss can do wonders to inspire young people to get more skills and schooling.”
USA Today may have contacted me because of a zippety piece I did for them on the same topic back in July 2002. I checked and did not find a link to this piece so here is one more time ’round the track for it.
USA Today July 12 2002
Teens don’t need sheltering
By James Bovard
Protecting teenagers from work is one of the worst things you can do to kids. While some prohibitionists may have good intentions, pervasive restrictions on youth labor would be a menace both to kids and society.
The Associated Press reports that 73 teens were killed on the job in 2000. This is far fewer than were killed and wounded in the narcotics business. Most drug dealers do not abide by the federal regulations for youth labor. Insofar as the government drives kids out of legitimate jobs, they could end up in tasks that are far more dangerous.
The government fails to keep statistics on the number of teens whose work ethics are fatally damaged in federal summer-job programs. The General Accounting Office noted as early as 1969 that some kids hired in the government summer programs “regressed in their conception of what should reasonably be required in return for wages paid.”
When I was 16, I spent the summer toiling for the Virginia State Highway Department. My favorite task was working with a chainsaw — an experience that proved invaluable for my future work as a journalist. It was much more inspirational than bailing hay or fighting snakes in trees while picking peaches, as I did the prior two summers largely because federal restrictions banned me from getting other work.
The following summer, when I was 17 and working in construction, I learned an important lesson when the foreman announced: “Red, you aren’t walking fast enough for $4 an hour.”
Many of the advocates of new restrictions on teen work are labor unions, which profit either from having kids confined to classrooms or blocked from competing with their members. The National Child Labor Committee, a high-profile advocate of restrictions on teen labor, includes the American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association, Teamsters Union, Service Employees International Union, and United Food and Commercial Workers.
The fact that some teens have job accidents should not be invoked to lock all teens into a pseudo-risk-free cocoon. Teens have more accidents in almost everything they do, from auto wrecks to broken condoms. Teenage years are a time of trial and error, and the government cannot protect kids from all danger without also “protecting” them from personal growth.
James Bovard is the author of Lost Rights: The Destruction of American Liberty.
POSTSCRIPT (added after initial posting): OK, so much for my web research skills. I did come across the 2002 piece online here.