How States Can Streamline the Hiring Process for Teenage Workers and Restore Decision-Making to Parents

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KEY FINDINGS

Background

Working a part-time job during high school is an opportunity that every American teenager should be afforded. By holding a job, teenagers learn invaluable life lessons like responsibility, time management, and personal finance. And the decision to get a first job should start with a conversation between teenagers and their parents. But many states have created an unnecessary hurdle in which teenagers need to obtain a work permit from their school before getting a job—effectively leaving the decision to school administrators.

A youth work permit is a document that certifies a teenager’s eligibility to work. In states that require youth work permits, teenagers are responsible for obtaining permits while employers retain a copy on file. Though some state labor departments issue youth work permits, they are typically issued by school districts.1Wage and Hour Division, “Employment/age certificate appendix,” U.S. Department of Labor (2021), https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/state/age-certificates#12 To obtain a work permit, a teenager must receive permission to work from a designated officer tasked with reviewing the occupation, working hours, and employer information. Depending on state policy, administrators may require a physical examination from a doctor or unilaterally determine the occupation is not in the best interest of the child.

Parents across the country are displeased with schools making these types of decisions for their children. In response to COVID-19-related policies and the inconsistent curriculum being taught at their children’s schools, parents have engaged in passionate debates at board meetings, participated in protests, and even sued their local school systems.2Kaiser Family Foundation, “Most parents don’t want their schools to require COVID-19 vaccination, but most favor requiring masks for unvaccinated children and staff,” Kaiser Family Foundation (2021), https://www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/press-release/most-parents-dont-want-their-schools-to-require-covid-19.vaccination-but-most-favor-requiring-masks-for-unvaccinated-children-and-staff/3Alexandra Desanctis, “It isn’t just conservative parents opposing critical race theory in schools,” National Review (2021), https://www.nationalreview.com/corner/it-isnt-just-conservative-parents-opposing-critical-race-theory-in.schools/4Ryan Miller, “Shouting matches, arrests and fed up parents: How school board meetings became ground zero in politics,” USA Today (2021), https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/education/2021/07/03/critical-race-theory.makes-school-board-meetings-political-ground-zero/7785802002/5Sabrina Silva, “Cobb County School District parents protest lack of Covid-19 protocols,” CBS46 Georgia (2021), https://www.cbs46.com/news/cobb-county-school-district-parents-protest-lack-of-covid-19.protocols/article_8a2cb55c-0756-11ec-af44-e3a03e122791.html6Andrew Marra, “Anti-mask parents sue Palm Beach County public schools over facial-covering requirement,” Palm Beach Post (2021), https://www.palmbeachpost.com/story/news/education/2021/09/17/anti-mask-parents-sue.palm-beach-county-public-schools/8361726002/7Anne Schindler, “Duval parents sue to block mask mandate, calling it ‘harmful and irrational’,” First Coast News (2021), https://www.firstcoastnews.com/article/news/education/duval-parents-students-suing-over-mask.mandate/77-4fd93002-e072-42cb-b02c-06280cc83f2f

With the increased pressure from parents seeking to reform the influence schools have over their children’s lives, eliminating needless bureaucratic oversight is imperative. Now is the time for state lawmakers to eliminate unnecessary hurdles to teenage work and leave the decision-making to parents.

Youth work permits are not required by federal law 

Federal child labor laws were first created under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to ensure that children were protected by certain safety and health provisions.829 U.S. Code § 21 Regulations and restrictions were designed so that children (under the age of 18) could participate in employment without jeopardizing their well-being or education.

These federal standards include age requirements, wages, and maximum hours of work.9See 29 CFR § 570 et seq. For example, working hours for teenagers are capped and adjusted around certain periods of the school year—so high-school-aged students can focus on their education.1029 CFR § 570.35 And employers are prohibited from employing a minor in a particularly hazardous job, like mining.1129 CFR § 570.53 Additionally, employers are required to keep a record of a teenager’s birth date on file.1229 CFR § 516.2 Employers subject to both the FLSA and state law must adhere to whichever is more protective of minors.

Unlike some state laws, teenagers are not required under federal law to obtain a work permit from their schools as a precondition of seeking employment. Standards regulating a child’s safety and well-being make sense, but state-created requirements forcing schools to get involved with family matters do not.

Teenagers want to work, so let them

The national labor crisis has created a standstill on the American economy and supply chains.13David Harsanyi, “You should definitely get a job,” National Review (2021), https://www.nationalreview.com/corner/you-should-definitely-get-a-job/14Josh Mitchell & Lauren Weber, “4.3 million workers are missing, where did they go?,” Wall Street Journal (2021), https://www.wsj.com/articles/labor-shortage-missing-workers-jobs-pay-raises-economy-11634224519 With 6.3 million people unemployed and nearly 11 million available jobs, job openings exist across industries—from food services and hospitality to childcare and education.15Bureau of Labor Statistics, “The employment situation—November 2021,” U.S. Department of Labor (2021), https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/empsit.pdf16Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Job openings and labor turnover summary,” U.S. Department of Labor (2021), https://www.bls.gov/news.release/jolts.nr0.htm Businesses in each of these industries are struggling to find suitable workers.17Hayden Dublois and Jonathan Ingram, “How the new era of expanded welfare programs is keeping Americans from working,” Foundation for Government Accountability (2021), https://thefga.org/paper/expanded-welfare.keeping-americans-from-working

While millions of adults would rather stay home rather than work, teenagers across the country are joining the workforce.18Jonathan Ingram and Hayden Dublois, “Paid to stay home: How the $300 weekly unemployment bonus and other benefits are stifling the economic recovery,” Foundation for Government Accountability (2021), https://thefga.org/paper/unemployment-bonus-stifling-economic-recovery19Paul Wiseman and Joseph Pisani, “Job positions are being filled by an unlikely source—teens,” Fortune (2021), https://fortune.com/2021/07/06/teens-filling-job-positions-us-economy In fact, teenagers are seeking to join the workforce at one of the highest rates in modern history.20Jessica Dickler, “One solution to the labor shortage: teenagers,” CNBC News (2021), https://www.cnbc.com/2021/11/17/one-solution-to-the-labor-shortage-teenagers.html21Lu Ann Stoi, “More teens joining the workforce becoming a trend say labor experts,” ABC6 Ohio (2021), https://abc6onyourside.com/news/coronavirus/more-teens-joining-the-workforce-becoming-a-trend-say-labor.experts-6-9-2021

For example, in the summer of 2021, the unemployment rate for teenagers aged 16 to 19 remained below 10 percent for three months.22The unemployment rate for teenagers was 9.6% in May, 9.9% in June, and 9.6% in July. Bureau of Labor Statistic, “Teenage unemployment rate under 10 percent for the third straight month in July 2021,” U.S. Department of Labor (2021), https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2021/teenage-unemployment-rate-under-10-percent-for-the-third.straight-month-in-july-2021.htm The unemployment rate for teenagers had not been lower since 1953, when it was 8.6 percent.23The unemployment rate for teenagers was 9.6% in May, 9.9% in June, and 9.6% in July. Bureau of Labor Statistic, “Teenage unemployment rate under 10 percent for the third straight month in July 2021,” U.S. Department of Labor (2021), https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2021/teenage-unemployment-rate-under-10-percent-for-the-third.straight-month-in-july-2021.htm Indeed, in the early summer of 2021, more than 32 percent of teenagers were employed—a record high that had been previously held in 2008.24-2524Drew Desilver, “During the pandemic, teen summer employment hit its lowest point since the Great Recession,” Pew Research Center (2021), https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/06/07/during-the-pandemic-teen-summer.employment-hit-its-lowest-point-since-the-great-recession/25Bureau of Labor Statistics, “The unemployment situation—August 2021,” U.S. Department of Labor (2021), https://www.bls.gov/news.release/archives/empsit_09032021.htm  

Teenagers are a critical source of labor for businesses struggling to find help 

Businesses across the country are seeking workers and offering incentives to attract teenage employees. For example, Walmart offers free college prep courses and college credits to its high school employees.26Walmart, “Walmart adds 14 tech degrees, certificates to Live Better U college offering, expands debt-free college to high schoolers and creates graduation bonuses,” Walmart (2019), https://corporate.walmart.com/newsroom/2019/06/04/walmart-adds-14-tech-degrees-certificates-to-live-better-u.college-offering-expands-debt-free-college-to-high-schoolers-and-creates-graduation-bonuses27Walmart, “Live Better U,” Walmart (2021), https://one.walmart.com/content/usone/en_us/company/news/popular-content/education-articles/unlock-the-future-.introducing-live-better-u.html And Publix Super Markets touts that one-third of all their store managers began working for the supermarket chain as teenagers.28Publix, “Beginning your Publix career at a young age,” Publix Super Markets (2021), https://blog.publix.com/publix/beginning-your-publix-career-at-a-young-age/

Xplore Lakeside, a restaurant located in Hot Springs Village, Arkansas, decided to pay their high-school-aged employees an extra hour to complete their homework.29Joseph Price & Jessica Ranck, “Hot Springs Village restaurant gives student employees space, pay for homework,” K-ARK News (2021), https://www.kark.com/news/top-stories/hot-springs-village-restaurant-gives.student-employees-space-pay-for.homework/?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=socialflowcialflow This trend has been utilized across the nation, including in Saratoga Springs, New York at Hattie’s Restaurant—the owner implemented “Hattie’s Homework Hour” for teenage workers in each after school shift.30Wendy Liberatore, “Paid to eat and work, teens flock to jobs at Hattie’s,” Times Union (2021), https://www.timesunion.com/news/article/Paid-to-eat-and-do-homework-teens-flock-to-work-16707196.php Texas-based Layne’s Chicken Fingers’ biggest challenge is the labor force, but they have been able to advance teenage workers to higher paid positions with potential for future growth.31Wendy Liberatore, “Paid to eat and work, teens flock to jobs at Hattie’s,” Times Union (2021), https://www.timesunion.com/news/article/Paid-to-eat-and-do-homework-teens-flock-to-work-16707196.php

There are many advantages for teenage workers joining the workforce right now, but unnecessary bureaucratic oversight could delay or prevent them from seeking these opportunities.  

States can help solve the labor shortage by modernizing work 

Businesses are looking for workers and policymakers are looking for solutions. The solution, however, is not hard to find: Remove unnecessary red tape by allowing teenagers to decide, with their parents, to get a job without needing school permission.

Some pro-work states already recognize the importance of allowing teenagers to join the workforce and respect parents’ decision-making rights. These states include Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Tennessee, Texas, and more.32Wage and Hour Division, “Employment/age certificate appendix,” U.S. Department of Labor (2021), https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/state/age-certificates#12 Most recently, Indiana reformed its state laws to eliminate youth work permits in 2020.33Indiana Senate Bill 409, http://iga.in.gov/legislative/2020/bills/senate/409#document-d235db2e

But unsurprisingly, states that delay the hiring process for teenage workers include California, Colorado, Illinois, Massachusetts, and New York, among others.34Wage and Hour Division, “Employment/age certificate appendix,” U.S. Department of Labor (2021), https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/state/age-certificates#12 These states disregard parental decision-making by forcing schools into the equation. This only further complicates the employment process for teenagers. 

For example, in Michigan, a teenager must obtain a new work permit from their school each time they change jobs.35Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity, “Youth Employment Standards Act,” Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (2021), https://www.michigan.gov/leo/0,5863,7-336-94422-510667–,00.html Michigan teenagers even need school permission to perform summer work and unpaid volunteer opportunities.36Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity, “Youth Employment Standards Act,” Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (2021), https://www.michigan.gov/leo/0,5863,7-336-94422-510667–,00.html In Ohio, teenagers must provide a physician’s certificate asserting that they are “physically fit to be employed.”37Ohio Revised Code § 3331.02 And Pennsylvania requires minors that have already graduated high school to get a work permit from their college or the school district where their employer is located.38Department of Education, “Pennsylvania child labor law,” Pennsylvania Department of Education (2021), https://www.education.pa.gov/Pages/Codes%20and%20Regulations/Child-Labor-Law.aspx This paperwork and verification process adds needless red tape and slows down the hiring process.

Employers are already required to follow federal and state laws related to the health and safety of teenage employees. Creating an additional layer of bureaucracy does not make youth workers safer. Instead, it creates problems and delays for teenagers, their parents, and businesses attempting to hire new employees.  

THE BOTTOM LINE: Lawmakers should restore decision-making to parents by eliminating youth work permits.

When a state requires school approval for a teenager to work, schools can override parents. If the school refuses to issue a work permit, then a young person cannot work—even if a parent believes a job is in the best interest of their child.

Schools should not replace parents. Millions of teenagers want to join the workforce, and if their parents approve, then government should not have the ability to undermine their decision. It is time for state lawmakers to restore decision-making to parents and remove barriers for young Americans that want to work. Reforming work permit requirements will also streamline the hiring process for teenage workers.

State lawmakers can make a significant and immediate impact on their local communities and economies by eliminating youth work permits. 

APPENDIX: DOES A TEENAGER UNDER 18 NEED TO GET GOVERNMENT PERMISSION TO WORK IN YOUR STATE?

REFERENCES

1. Wage and Hour Division, “Employment/age certificate appendix,” U.S. Department of Labor (2021), https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/state/age-certificates#12.

2. Kaiser Family Foundation, “Most parents don’t want their schools to require COVID-19 vaccination, but most favor requiring masks for unvaccinated children and staff,” Kaiser Family Foundation (2021), https://www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/press-release/most-parents-dont-want-their-schools-to-require-covid-19.vaccination-but-most-favor-requiring-masks-for-unvaccinated-children-and-staff/.

3. Alexandra Desanctis, “It isn’t just conservative parents opposing critical race theory in schools,” National Review (2021), https://www.nationalreview.com/corner/it-isnt-just-conservative-parents-opposing-critical-race-theory-in.schools/.

4. Ryan Miller, “Shouting matches, arrests and fed up parents: How school board meetings became ground zero in politics,” USA Today (2021), https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/education/2021/07/03/critical-race-theory.makes-school-board-meetings-political-ground-zero/7785802002/. 

5. Sabrina Silva, “Cobb County School District parents protest lack of Covid-19 protocols,” CBS46 Georgia (2021), https://www.cbs46.com/news/cobb-county-school-district-parents-protest-lack-of-covid-19.protocols/article_8a2cb55c-0756-11ec-af44-e3a03e122791.html. 

6. Andrew Marra, “Anti-mask parents sue Palm Beach County public schools over facial-covering requirement,” Palm Beach Post (2021), https://www.palmbeachpost.com/story/news/education/2021/09/17/anti-mask-parents-sue.palm-beach-county-public-schools/8361726002/.

7. Anne Schindler, “Duval parents sue to block mask mandate, calling it ‘harmful and irrational’,” First Coast News (2021), https://www.firstcoastnews.com/article/news/education/duval-parents-students-suing-over-mask.mandate/77-4fd93002-e072-42cb-b02c-06280cc83f2f.

8. 29 U.S. Code § 21

9. See 29 CFR § 570 et seq.

10. 29 CFR § 570.35

11. 29 CFR § 570.53

12. 29 CFR § 516.2

13. David Harsanyi, “You should definitely get a job,” National Review (2021), https://www.nationalreview.com/corner/you-should-definitely-get-a-job/.

14. Josh Mitchell & Lauren Weber, “4.3 million workers are missing, where did they go?,” Wall Street Journal (2021), https://www.wsj.com/articles/labor-shortage-missing-workers-jobs-pay-raises-economy-11634224519.

15. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “The employment situation—November 2021,” U.S. Department of Labor (2021), https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/empsit.pdf.

16. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Job openings and labor turnover summary,” U.S. Department of Labor (2021), https://www.bls.gov/news.release/jolts.nr0.htm.

17. Hayden Dublois and Jonathan Ingram, “How the new era of expanded welfare programs is keeping Americans from working,” Foundation for Government Accountability (2021), https://thefga.org/paper/expanded-welfare.keeping-americans-from-working/.

18. Jonathan Ingram and Hayden Dublois, “Paid to stay home: How the $300 weekly unemployment bonus and other benefits are stifling the economic recovery,” Foundation for Government Accountability (2021), https://thefga.org/paper/unemployment-bonus-stifling-economic-recovery/.

19. Paul Wiseman and Joseph Pisani, “Job positions are being filled by an unlikely source—teens,” Fortune (2021), https://fortune.com/2021/07/06/teens-filling-job-positions-us-economy/.

20. Jessica Dickler, “One solution to the labor shortage: teenagers,” CNBC News (2021). https://www.cnbc.com/2021/11/17/one-solution-to-the-labor-shortage-teenagers.html.

21. Lu Ann Stoi, “More teens joining the workforce becoming a trend say labor experts,” ABC6 Ohio (2021), https://abc6onyourside.com/news/coronavirus/more-teens-joining-the-workforce-becoming-a-trend-say-labor.experts-6-9-2021.

22. The unemployment rate for teenagers was 9.6% in May, 9.9% in June, and 9.6% in July. Bureau of Labor Statistic, “Teenage unemployment rate under 10 percent for the third straight month in July 2021,” U.S. Department of Labor (2021), https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2021/teenage-unemployment-rate-under-10-percent-for-the-third.straight-month-in-july-2021.htm. 

23. Ibid.

24. Drew Desilver, “During the pandemic, teen summer employment hit its lowest point since the Great Recession,” Pew Research Center (2021), pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/06/07/during-the-pandemic-teen-summer.employment-hit-its-lowest-point-since-the-great-recession/.

25. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “The unemployment situation—August 2021,” U.S. Department of Labor (2021), https://www.bls.gov/news.release/archives/empsit_09032021.htm.

26. Walmart, “Walmart adds 14 tech degrees, certificates to Live Better U college offering, expands debt-free college to high schoolers and creates graduation bonuses,” Walmart (2019), https://corporate.walmart.com/newsroom/2019/06/04/walmart-adds-14-tech-degrees-certificates-to-live-better-u.college-offering-expands-debt-free-college-to-high-schoolers-and-creates-graduation-bonuses.

27. Walmart, “Live Better U,” Walmart (2021), https://one.walmart.com/content/usone/en_us/company/news/popular-content/education-articles/unlock-the-future-.introducing-live-better-u.html.

28. Publix, “Beginning your Publix career at a young age,” Publix Super Markets (2021), https://blog.publix.com/publix/beginning-your-publix-career-at-a-young-age/.

29. Joseph Price & Jessica Ranck, “Hot Springs Village restaurant gives student employees space, pay for homework,” K-ARK News (2021), https://www.kark.com/news/top-stories/hot-springs-village-restaurant-gives.student-employees-space-pay-for.homework/?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=socialflowcialflow. 

30. Wendy Liberatore, “Paid to eat and work, teens flock to jobs at Hattie’s,” Times Union (2021), https://www.timesunion.com/news/article/Paid-to-eat-and-do-homework-teens-flock-to-work-16707196.php.

31. Ibid.

32. Wage and Hour Division, “Employment/age certificate appendix,” U.S. Department of Labor (2021), https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/state/age-certificates#12.

33. Indiana Senate Bill 409, http://iga.in.gov/legislative/2020/bills/senate/409#document-d235db2e.

34. Wage and Hour Division, “Employment/age certificate appendix,” U.S. Department of Labor (2021), https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/state/age-certificates#12.

35. Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity, “Youth Employment Standards Act,” Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (2021), https://www.michigan.gov/leo/0,5863,7-336-94422-510667–,00.html.

36. Ibid.

37. Ohio Revised Code § 3331.02.

38. Department of Education, “Pennsylvania child labor law,” Pennsylvania Department of Education (2021), https://www.education.pa.gov/Pages/Codes%20and%20Regulations/Child-Labor-Law.aspx.