Exploiting children

I remember working my high school job at a grocery store. As I recall, I could only work 4 hours and until 9 p.m. on school nights when I started. I soon turned 18 and was able to work longer and later. And that I did. I soon took on the role of supervisor, something that unfortunately translated to working until close – 11 p.m. I remember just how rough it was getting up in the morning for school. I had to be there by 7:15 a.m., so I was up by 6:50 a.m. at the latest. That is, if I even went to school. In my Senior year I skipped like crazy; in just one quarter I missed 11 days. My grades didn’t suffer (as I recall, I had a 94 average that particular quarter), but I was also fortunate in going to a school that granted Junior/Senior privileges. Depending on the week, I either had 2 or 3 days in which I could go home and sleep from about 11 to 1.

But that isn’t the case for everyone. First, not every school has the system mine did. Second, many students are going to struggle to do moderately well, much less achieve privileges (if their school even has them). Allowing kids to work that awful schedule I dumbly undertook in high school is an obvious mistake that will negatively impact education. Well, it’s obvious unless you’re a member of the Maine GOP:

Rep. Burns, who did not respond to an interview request Tuesday, apparently thinks Maine’s kids are not only underworked, but also overpaid.

And how would Burns correct this, ahem, problem?

Well, he’d remove any limit whatsoever on the number of hours kids over 16 can work on a school day — the current limit is four on most days and eight on the last school day of the week.

He’d raise from three to four the maximum hours kids under 16 can work on a school day.

And finally — listen up, kids — he’d whack the pay for any high school student under the age of 20 from Maine’s $7.50-per-hour minimum wage to a “training wage” of $5.25-per-hour for the first 180 days on the job.

This has to be the worst idea I have heard from Republicans since we invaded Iraq. Kids don’t need to be working late nights while trying to juggle school and their social lives. It sucked for me under relatively fortunate circumstances; it will suck just as much, if not more, for everyone else.

Co-sponsor of the bill Rep. Bickford had this to say:

“I would support removing the cap for daily and weekly hours, but I would also support amending it to six hours when school is in session, so the student could get home from school — say 3:00 — and could work from 4:00-9:00. They’d still have plenty of time for homework,” Bickford added. “Most of these kids are generally up well past 10:00. They could work a 3:00-9:00 shift.”

So let’s just keep them up later. Hell, I used to stay up until 12:30 a.m. quite often. How about we let kids work until midnight? Or, hell, let’s allow them to do overnights. They can go to work at 11:00 p.m., work an 8 hour shift, get to school at 7 the next morning, sleep from about 2:30-10:30 p.m., then head back to work. It’ll be a real resume builder.

Aside from being an education-second bill, the whole point of this legislation is to cheapen up labor for Maine’s tourist industry. Anyone who has ever been to the Maine coast in the summer knows that teenagers get hired all over the place – and for less than 180 days. Burns and Bickford want to allow businesses to pay teenagers less money for the same work that those over 20 are doing. It’s horseshit. It’s unfair, without a good or reasonable basis, and it will have negative ramifications on the educations of working teens.

But hey, how about some science?

Citing no fewer than eight published studies, [Maine Women’s Lobby direction Laura] Harper said the data consistently show that holding down a job while in high school is actually a good thing for most kids — up to a point:

One study, appearing in the “American Educational Research Journal,” found that kids who work between one and 15 hours per week are actually more likely to complete high school. Pass the 15-hour mark, however, and the dropout rate starts to rise.

Ditto for another study in “Sociology of Education” that found “intensive work involvement” of more than 20 hours a week leads to higher numbers of kids giving up on school.

Then there’s the “Journal of Educational Research” study that found a direct correlation between hours worked and academic performance — the more the hours go up, the more grades and standardized test scores go down.

Meanwhile, as Harper noted in a recent letter to the committee, “no evidence presented suggests that there is an unskilled labor shortage in this state.”

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