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EDITORIAL: Kid problems? They need good jobs

By: The Gazette editorial board
June 17, 2017 Updated: June 17, 2017 at 10:08 am
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Parents enduring a summer of bored, misbehaving or depressed adolescents should hear Ben Sasse and read his book "The Vanishing American Adult."

Then they should reassess their views of the minimum wage.

Through life experience, informal and formal education Nebraska's junior senator — a scholar of Harvard, Oxford and Yale — learned that happiness requires four key elements in addition to genetic predisposition: 1. Family; 2. a few good friends; 3. a framework with which to understand suffering and death; and 4. meaningful work.

The Republican legislator and former college president, who commutes weekly to Washington from a Nebraska farm town, spoke Friday at The Broadmoor.

Insisting he's not some old guy yelling, "Get off my lawn," the 45-year-old exudes passionate concern about the loss of happiness, virtue and fulfillment associated with getting up and producing.

Sasse became a viral Twitter sensation for putting his 14-year-old daughter to work on a Nebraska ranch during his 2014 campaign, tweeting her texts about bovine poop and other work-related nastiness daily.

He refrains from those "damned kids these days" arguments that degrade millennials and the younger Z generation.

We live in the most prosperous and productive era in history, in which work has become less necessary and more jeopardized as technology advances. Most American families survive just fine, at least economically, if teens and young adults don't work.

Meanwhile, youths lose the psychological and physiological benefits of work.

Sasse asserts technological disruptions will increasingly require professionals and workers in their 40s and 50s to obtain more education and training if they are to continue working.

Sasse has a doctorate in history from Yale, but cursory familiarity with the past tells us a majority of children of the late 18th and early 19th centuries grew up in agrarian economies. At the age of 7 or 8, they began farm chores and gradually moved into independent lifestyles of farming and ranching.

Fast-forward to 2017 and "we have 18- to 24-year-old males, a large share of whom play video games a majority of their waking hours," Sasse said.

We all know these people. We know adults in their 30s and 40s who spend more time with PlayStation than the office or work site.

Society does not benefit much from hours spent playing "Hitman" or "Dynasty Warriors," or from jobs established or sustained primarily to provide work. If it did, we would legislatively sustain film labs and full-service gas pumps.

Progressive disruption should lead humans to more meaningful work. The transition takes time. Public policies that artificially advance job disruption faster than workers can adjust seem unconscionable.

Restaurateurs and other employers have responded to high and rising minimum wage laws by rushing to automate. Artificial manipulation, to raise labor costs, has led them to robotic burger flipping and retail kiosks that take orders and payments.

Colorado voters raised the minimum wage in the 2016 election.

"By making low-skilled workers more expensive, there is the potential for employers to use fewer workers, switch to slightly higher-skilled workers or exchange capital technology — such as self-serve kiosks — for low-skilled workers," wrote labor economist Terra McKinnish, an economics professor at the University of Colorado.

As reported Friday by Peter Marcus in ColoradoPolitics.com, McKinnish headed a study published in the journal Regional Science and Urban Economics that bolsters concerns expressed by business owners who opposed Colorado's minimum wage hike.

Those hit first and hardest are teens who need work. The price of tacos and burgers can only go so high to cover payroll.

Our statewide average unemployment rate has fallen to 3 percent. Meanwhile, unemployment is 13 percent among teens seeking jobs.

"Obviously, lots of folks who want to raise the minimum wage to $12 and $15 mean well," Sasse told The Gazette. "But various surveys tell us 85-to-90 percent of minimum wage earners are not the primary wage earners in a home. They are kids, or second-or-third wage earners. These sharp spikes in the minimum wage cause a rush to technological substitution for those on the bottom rungs of the ladder of opportunity."

Our kids need jobs, and the law should not fight them. Maybe we need an exception to high minimum wage laws for teens, students and apprentices.

As Henry David Thoreau implored, "The devil finds work for idle hands."

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