Teens facing a tough labor market this summer

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Young people are being squeezed out of summer jobs, and seasonal employers will have to do more with less, as a dramatically increased minimum wage that went into effect last year affects summer hiring for the first time.

Wisconsin’s minimum wage increased for the first time in three years last July 24, from $5.90 an hour to $7.25 an hour for minors, and from $6.50 to $7.25 for adults. The biggest hit was to the state’s agricultural sector, including produce farms that hire kids to help guide suburbanites through strawberry patches. Though an agricultural exemption previously allowed farms to pay minors $4.25 per hour, all farm employees – regardless of age — now must be paid at least $7.25 an hour.

Tween and young teen workers used to be bargain employees for farms, which in turn taught them how to be good workers. But the disappearance of the agricultural exemption is shifting more of those jobs to older teens who require less supervision.

Businesses, such as custard stands, that see an upswing in summer — and hire accordingly — will feel the pinch of the $1.35-an-hour minimum wage increase for minors in other ways. They may hire fewer employees if they haven’t raised menu prices to make up for higher labor costs. They’re being flooded with applications from both kids and adults because a weak economy is forcing adults to compete for minimum-wage jobs.

For those who can’t find a paying summer job, one school of thought suggests volunteer work is priceless.

They won’t make money for college or clothes, notes David Lynch, director of student services at Divine Savior Holy Angels High School in Milwaukee, but volunteering builds character, nurtures a work ethic, and allows young people to start networking for future jobs, he said.

Full story: Teens facing a tough labor market this summer – JSOnline