Working Too Early?
Does working while in high
school feed the U.S. dropout problem?by
- By Jerry Laws
- May 01, 2005
Could working while in high school be partly to blame for the widespread
concern about the quality of a U.S. public school education, which rose to new
heights with the federal No Child Left Behind law? The Bureau of Labor
Statistics doesn't tell us, but its summary of six annual surveys of youths from
1997 to 2002-03 confirms U.S. high school juniors and seniors overwhelmingly are
working during the school year. Working all year is much more common among high
schoolers in all grades than is working just during the summer or just during
the school year.
BLS did not tell us whether American
high school students want to work or have to work, but its table of average
hours worked shows that much higher percentages of black and Hispanic juniors
and seniors worked 11 hours per week or more for at least 51 percent of their
school weeks than worked 10 hours or less. BLS also found there was little
difference in the working patterns of the freshmen who dropped out as sophomores
and the freshmen who eventually graduated, except that those who dropped out
worked more hours when they were freshmen than those who did not drop
out--especially if they were Hispanic or black. Among all students who had not
received a diploma by age 20, whether or not they worked during their school
years looked practically identical for all four grades.
BLS did examine dropouts and work intensity. Among freshmen, 29 percent of
those who worked during the school year eventually dropped out of school,
compared with 22 percent of those who did not work. For sophomores, 18 percent
of those who worked eventually dropped out, compared with 15 percent of those
who did not work.
The BLS National Longitudinal Survey of Youth examined only wage and salary
jobs, in which youths have an ongoing, formal relationship with a particular
employer. Because "freelance jobs" (babysitting, cutting grass, etc.) weren't
examined, the percentages underestimate the real extent of students' work. The
survey included about 9,000 young men and women born during 1980-84, although
BLS excluded respondents born in 1984 because many had not completed high school
when the latest data were calculated.
Our culture prizes work. So do I, though I realize it can be one more
distraction for an active teenager. My 16-year-old son, who soon will be a high
school junior, began a part-time job during the spring semester of his sophomore
year. We're keeping a close eye on his grades.
This editor's note appears in the July 2005 issue of Occupational Health
This article originally appeared in the May 2005 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.
Jerry Laws is Editor of Occupational Health & Safety magazine, which is owned by 1105 Media Inc.