Opportunity is the first chapter of every American success story. It begins when somebody is given a chance.
But sadly, countless opportunities may disappear because of regulations being considered by city and state governments across the county. Part-time work, the great stepping stone enabling millions of Americans to pay bills while pursuing their education is now at risk of going away. Tucked within benign-sounding scheduling ordinances are provisions that we fear would have this tragic effect.
Our concern stems from rules that seek to eliminate part-time work and restrict managers from responding to each employee’s unique life circumstances. Some provisions would keep employers from hiring part-time workers by requiring that available hours be offered only to existing employees. This requirement is misguided. First, not all employees want full-time work. In fact, some laws do not allow teenagers to work full-time. And second, some employers offer regular healthcare and other benefits to part-time workers, debunking the myth that part-time work is just a way to suppress costs.
Other provisions levy financial penalties against employers that make scheduling changes within a certain amount of time, even in cases of unforeseen circumstances. Forced with this dilemma, managers will be drawn to applicants with more availability and fewer external demands. We believe these are precisely the wrong incentives. A young woman shouldn’t be passed over for a part-time job because she wants to play on the soccer team, or needs to watch a younger sibling while her mom is at work.
Some will suffer more than others. In communities of color, jobs and an education are harder to come by. Unemployment rates among Blacks and Hispanics soar above the national average of 4.9 percent, and the unemployment rate for work-eligible teens (ages 16-19) is an alarming 15.6 percent.
Long-term costs are staggering as well. The White House released a study last year showing that if men of color participated in the workforce at the same rate as their white counterparts, domestic GDP would swell by $350 billion.
Our organization proudly serves these communities. Through our charter school, work readiness, training, and job placement programs, we help meet the stark challenges confronting at-risk youth. Many live in single-parent homes where they are forced to shoulder financial burdens and family obligations at an early age. Others must work part-time to finance their higher education.
These talented and deserving young Americans need flexible part-time work. Earning income from an employer that understands their circumstances builds self-esteem and responsibility and gives them a paycheck that keeps their dreams alive. Without part-time employment, many young people would be forced to give up their education or make other unfortunate sacrifices.
Critical to breaking the cycle of poverty is to open the door of opportunity to people from difficult circumstances. While onerous scheduling practices benefit no one, neither do policies that punish employers willing to work with young Americans who want a brighter future.
We fear proliferation of laws recently enacted in San Francisco, and currently before city and state governments in Seattle, Washington, DC, and New York, that slash part-time work and straight-jacket the relationship between managers and their employees. Employers across the country will eventually have fewer such positions available, and restrictive scheduling requirements will discourage the hiring of applicants with unusual life challenges.
Garza is President and CEO of the Association for the Advancement of Mexican Americans (AAMA)