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'Premature Affluence' Seen as Negative Effect of Part-Time Work

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High-school students who work 15 or more hours per week run the risk of attaining "premature affluence"--a state of having perhaps excessive amounts of money to spend on themselves that they will not be able to sustain later in their lives.

That is the view of researchers at the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research who have been surveying high-school seniors since 1976. In addition, they contend, the the perceived benefits of working longer hours--including "real-world" experience, broadened social contacts, and lessons in punctuality, reliability, responsibility, and practical job skills--do not outweigh some of the negative effects, including diminished involvement with school, family, and peers.

Jerald G. Bachman, a researcher at isr, also notes that--because of the higher discretionary income available to students who work--drug use is "slightly associated" with the number of hours worked in part-time jobs.

Since 1979, more than half of working male high-school seniors have earned more than $50 per week, while females earned slightly less, according to Mr. Bachman's research.

"Statistics show that females' hourly earnings are roughly equal, but they tend to average fewer hours," he said.

In 1982, 23 percent of male seniors had no paying job, 35 percent earned less than $50 per week, and 42 percent earned $50 or more, Mr. Bachman says.

In that year, 30 percent of female seniors did not have a paying job, 38 percent earned less than $50 per week, and 32 percent earned $50 or more.

"If parents ... adopt the position that a young person's using most or all of part-time earnings as casual spending money is not, in fact, a realistic way of learning the value of money, then there is a 'reasonable' basis for setting down some guidelines or restrictions," Mr. Bachman suggested. "Practical approaches may be to call for a room-and-board contribution from students with substantial earnings or to require much higher proportions of earnings to be saved regularly for future needs," he added. "I am concerned that premature affluence may be teaching the wrong lessons."

Another study conducted at the Michigan institute indicates that poverty and dependence on welfare are not transmitted from one generation to another on the basis of values taught in the home.

Although they acknowledge that "links between parents' and children's economic circumstances do exist," the researchers say that values and motivations thought vital to economic achievement--including conceptions of "personal effectiveness, concern for the future, and various aspects of achievement motivation"--have "little effect on children's later economic outcomes and welfare dependence," according to Martha S. Hill, study director at isr Ms. Hill and Michael Ponza conducted the study.

"Our results do not support the intergenerational arguments of the culture-of-poverty, underclass, and welfare-dependence theories.

"We observe a great deal of income mobility from one generation to the next, even among the poorest households," the researchers conclude.

Their data from a sample of nearly 1,400 children who have left their parents' homes since 1968 indicate that there is "substantial upward mobility" among young adults from poor families. Some 57 percent of the young adults were not impoverished.

"This is not to say that the poor are not at greater risk of being poor in the next generation," the authors explain. "Children from families in the lowest income/needs quintile were about three times more likely than those from other families to have their own income/needs in the bottom quintile as adults."--sr

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