"Having a job and paying for things is truly a nice feeling," was the text message I got from my darling almost 17-year-old daughter earlier this week. I'm very proud of her. Since summer, she has been working as a cashier at a local restaurant. It's not easy.
She gets out of school mid-afternoon. An hour or so later is driving to Boise to work a shift that may not end until 10:30 p.m. or so. Meanwhile, she still has to make time for homework, friends, orchestra practice and household chores.
But she does it, and she tells me she thinks it is worth it. She's paying for a car, saving for college and even putting money toward a trip to Europe. She even took some of her earnings, sharing it with people in her community who are hurting, buying supplies for a local homeless shelter. That's how awesome she is.
A good work ethic doesn't just appear out of nowhere. It is something that is developed and cultivated. It is extraordinarily valuable, and increasingly rare. The majority of kids don't get a chance to experience what it means to earn a paycheck.
According to data compiled by my friends at the Liberty Foundation, only a fraction of teens actually have jobs and the trend is for still fewer youngsters to find themselves earning money. Data from the U.S. Census Bureau find only 43 percent of Idahoans between 16 and 19 are working. That's a downward trend. In 1999, some 61 percent held jobs.
It could be worse, though. Nationally, about eight in 10 kids who could be working aren't. Consider the compounding implications: Millennials, who are already being compelled to buy health insurance whether they want it or not, are faced with increasingly high barriers to economic prosperity.
They are told to go on to college, but lacking job opportunities, they're more likely to accrue debilitating levels of debt. With mounting debt and limited options, youngsters are delaying marriage. They're delaying having kids. And because of economic uncertainty and inability to save for a down payment, they're delaying buying homes.
It is hardly surprising that for the first time in our nation's history there is the very real possibility that our children will have a lower level of income and standard of living than their parents.
This is what politicians should be discussing.
Instead, they're talking up their plans to expand entitlement programs, like Medicaid.
Or they're promising a higher minimum wage, which is irrelevant when you can't find a job in the first place. Moreover, experience tells us that forcing employers to shell out more money for scarce jobs only means fewer jobs, not more, and the ones who suffer that policy the most are youngsters and low-skilled laborers.
My daughter is right. Having a job and all that goes with it—working hard, earning money, being able to pay for nice things, being able to use your money to also help those in need—are precious and important things. It's a shame some public policies are making it harder for some youngsters to know what it's like.