Jobs and Cars Linked to Delinquency In a Study Prepared for Justice Dept.
Washington--Teen-agers who hold down part- or full-time jobs and have ready access to cars are more likely to get into trouble with the law than their counterparts without jobs and cars, according to a study of juvenile delinquency sponsored by the Justice Department and released last week.
The 964-page study, entitled Assessing the Relationship of Adult Criminal Careers to Juvenile Careers, also questions the validity of other time-honored beliefs about the roots of delinquency. It argues that there is little evidence supporting links between teen-age misbehavior and parents' marital status, the age at which a teen-ager leaves home, and the occupation and employment status of heads of households.
In addition, the report says, it is virtually impossible to predict which teen-agers with records of misbehavior will go on to become adult criminals "except in cases of youth who have long histories of chronic involvement in delinquency."
Officials of several child-welfare organizations have questioned the validity of the study's findings, which run counter to other studies that examine the sources of delinquent behavior.
And one official pointed out that by linking teen-age misbehavior and work, the report could have an effect on the ultimate disposition of proposed Department of Labor regulations that would relax federal child-labor laws.
The proposed changes to the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act would: allow 14- and 15-year-olds to work four hours per day during a school week (as opposed to three hours per day now); extend the work week from 18 to 24 hours; and lengthen the end of a work day from 7 P.M. to 9 P.M. during the school week and to 10 P.M. on days preceding weekends and holidays.
The Labor Department, in the wake of strong criticism from child-welfare groups and members of Congress, decided last month to extend the period of public comment on the proposed regulations from the normal 30 days to six months.
Although most critics of the proposed rules questioned the rationale for relaxing child-labor rules at a time of near-record unemployment among adults nationwide, many opponents also suggested that longer working hours would lead to decreased academic achievement and increased delinquency among teen-agers.
That second belief appeared to be borne out, in part, by the Justice Department study.
"Contrary to the notion that employment while in high school deterred delinquency," it says, "[teen-agers] who were employed during both the summer and the school year, particularly the males, had somewhat more police contacts" than did their nonworking counterparts. Those contacts with the police also tended to be of a more serious nature than those of nonworkers, the study added.
The researchers also found that there were significant increases in the number of police contacts, and in the seriousness of those contacts, for teen-agers who took on full-time jobs at age 17 or younger.
The study was carried out between 1974 and 1980 by researchers at the University of Iowa at Iowa City for the Justice Department's office of juvenile justice and delinquency prevention.
It was conducted in Racine, Wis., a city of 100,000 described by the researchers as a "microcosm" of the United States. The researchers tracked the delinquent and criminal histories of 6,127 people.
The report, in addition to finding a link between teen-age misbehavior and work, also reported a connection between youths in trouble and cars.
"Looking at [the data] even more carefully, we saw how frequently the automobile got juveniles into trouble with the police and how other behaviors were related to it," the researchers say. "It was not having an early driver's license per se that that resulted in police contacts, but simply having access to the automobile, just as early employment may have exposed some juveniles to greater contact risk and also given them funds to be spent in a trouble-producing way during the years of socialization."
"Some long-cherished notions" about family life and "and the causes of delinquency receive little support" from the study's findings.
For example, the researchers note, "the marital status of parents had little relationship to the delinquent behavior" of their children. Similarly, they said, the age that a teen-ager left home permanently ''failed to have a consistent impact" on the frequency and seriousness of the teen-ager's contacts with the police.
The report also says that "there was little relationship" when the occupational level and regularity of employment of heads of families were considered in attempting to predict teen-age delinquency; there was such a relationship in the case of black youths, the report notes.
Copies of the final report are available on microfiche for $18 and can be ordered by writing: NCJRS Dept. F., Box 6000, Rockville, Md. 20850.