Report: High school work experience leads to better wages, steadier employment

Holding a job in high school translates into higher wages and a steadier employment experience, a new study said Wednesday.

Working part-time or during the summer as a high school senior means annual earnings that are upward of 20 percent higher than those who didn't work, within only a few years of high school, the Employment Policies Institute (EPI) said in the report.

“Entry-level jobs play an essential role in teens’ career development that continues to pay benefits for decades,” said Michael Saltsman, EPI’s research director.

Saltsman's group, which is opposed to an increase in the minimum wage, suggested that lawmakers digest the study's findings before pursuing a wage increase that "puts these invaluable opportunities further out of reach."

Economists Christopher Ruhm and Charles Baum said that their study found that high school students who in 2000 worked 20 hours a week led to annual earnings that were 20 percent higher 6-9 years after graduation, as compared with other students who didn’t work.

Millennial high school seniors who held a part-time job were employed an average 42 weeks per year after graduation, as compared with 37 weeks of employment per year for those who didn’t hold a job.

The report said that the results show that entry-level work at restaurants, grocery stores and other employers plays a significant role in career development. 

Most importantly, the economists find that this career benefit of entry-level work persists in the long term.

For workers who were high school students in the late 1970s and early 1980s, 20 hours per week of senior-year work experience produced annual earnings that are 7 percent higher.

Studying hourly wages, for instance, the authors find that working high school seniors earned nearly 11 percent more than their unemployed counterparts down the career road. 

Respondents who are now in their 40s or 50s said the wage premium held up with those who held a job in high school were still earning 9.4 percent more per hour.

The younger group who have graduated more recently enjoy an hourly wage premium of about 3.6 percent even though the recession took a toll on the labor market and hurt job prospects for 16- to 19-year-olds.

In addition, young adults who don’t work are missing out on extra spending cash as well as an early workforce experience that could play a valuable role in future career development, the report said. 

While the labor market has been improving at a faster pace in recent months, teens were especially hard hit during the downturn and are still recovering. 

For young adults between the ages of 16 and 19, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) said recently that the number of unemployed young adults increased by 913,000 this summer.

In the five year period since the summer of 2008, the seasonally adjusted rate unemployment rate was around 21 percent, the report said. 

The economists used data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, which tracks the career progress of the respondents to look at the short- and long-term benefits of high school employment.