Gary Stein: Competition for low-wage jobs hurts kids looking for summer work

Here is some good news for folks seeking to enter an Ivy-League college and bad news for those seeking minimum-wage work. Harvard is accepting a higher percentage of its applicants than McDonalds is hiring for its minimum-wage positions.

According to CBS2 Chicago, at a recent National Hiring Day, McDonald’s hired only 6.2 percent of those who applied; Harvard accepted 7 percent.

This brings to mind several situations. While it is still tough to get into Harvard and expensive to attend, there are greater financial problems swirling around the middle and lower classes.

We are still digging ourselves out of the economic downturn of 2008. We hit bottom in 2010, when only 66 percent of all Americans had jobs— the lowest amount in U.S. history. Since then, we have regained many of the jobs lost, but most pay very little. Many middle class wage earners find themselves in the position of taking whatever they can find, and low-paying employers are taking them in droves.

Unfortunately, it’s not just family wage-earners are looking for these jobs. Seniors, realizing that the retirement they saved is insufficient in today’s economy, are looking to these positions, as well.

Here is another troubling statistic. In 2013, the Wall Street Journal reported that 284,000 recent college graduates were working minimum-wage jobs, a number 70 percent higher than in 2003. It is gratifying that the number is down from its peak in 2010, when 327,000 grads were working in low-paying jobs. But it is disconcerting to know that over half of all grads are working in jobs that do not require a college degree, and 38 percent have jobs that don’t even require a high school diploma, according to a study by the Center for College Affordability and Productivity.

That also means that they won’t be able to start paying back those college loans, which make up one of the highest categories of debt in the nation.

All of this economic fallout has trickled down to the group that used to be the ones who worked for the lowest wages permitted by law. High school kids have a far greater chance of having no summer job or even an after-school job than at any time in the recent past. They are being squeezed out of those jobs by college-age and older workers.

This has further implications for our economy. That age group used to be at the top of the demographic groups spending money on movies and shopping at the malls. But with no job and parents who are struggling, many neighborhood retailers are suffering.

My daughter just graduated cum laude from high school. She is looking forward to starting college, thanks to scholarships and FAFSA loans. She just got her driver’s license three months ago and had already started looking for work so she can save some money to buy a car and pay those college expenses that won’t be covered by her Florida Prepaid Scholarship.

It is now almost one month into her summer and she still hasn’t found a summer job, despite dozens of applications and a few interviews. The only position she almost got was from a multi-level marketing firm called Vector, which hires jobless high school kids to sell knives on a commission-only basis. When she realized that the company expected her to pester her friends and relatives for buy knives, she backed away.

She could be in a position to do well in a minimum-wage job while she is living at home. She could be buying a car and spending her earnings at local stores, but that is not the case. Her friends have been telling her that their families were hoping that summer jobs could augment the family income in homes where the economy has hit them hard.

Maybe some of the 6 percent who get into Harvard will become powerful some day and find a solution to the problem, but for now, it looks like the McRib will come back before these kids can find jobs.

Gary Stein, MPH, a native Detroiter, worked for the Centers for Disease Control, landed in the Tampa Bay area to work for the State Tobacco program and is now a health advocate and activist and blogger for the Huffington Post. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

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One comment

  • Denny Rivera

    July 2, 2014 at 7:32 am

    yes competition is tough but that means managers can hire better people…meaning they should pay more, invest in their workforce and maybe they won’t see such high turnover rates after a while. Make even McDonald’s a good place to work.

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