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August, 2001, Vol. 124, No. 8

Youth initiation into the labor market

Lynn Huang, Michael Pergamit, and Jamie Shkolnik

Young people acquire substantial work experience before age 16, the age at which official statistics begin counting employment. Using the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth—1979 cohort (NLSY79), R.T. Michael and N.B. Tuma examined the amount of work performed by 14- and 15-year-olds using definitions from the Current Population Survey (CPS). 1 Importantly, they found significant differences between black and white youths, and also found that youths who worked at ages 14 and 15 were more likely to be working 2 years later. They concluded that social scientists should include such early work experience in their models. Their findings were influential in the design considerations for the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth—1997 cohort (NLSY97).

Other surveys that capture information about youths as young as 12 do not typically include information on their work activities, and data that focus on work have not sampled those below age 14.2 The Fair Labor Standards Act prohibits employment of those younger than age 14, and restricts the hours and jobs allowed for those younger than 16. However, many youths have "jobs" before these ages. These jobs, while not always like those of adults, frequently involve learning work behavior (for example, showing up at a particular time every week), personal responsibility (for example, caring for someone’s child), remuneration, and other characteristics that teach young adolescents the basic nature of working for someone else.

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1 R.T. Michael and N.B. Tuma, "Youth Employment: Does Life Begin at 16?," Journal of Labor Economics, 1984, vol. 2, no. 4, pp. 465–476.

2 See for example, the National Educational Longitudinal Survey–1988 or the Youth Risk Behavior Survey.

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