For The Record
Following is the text of the President's May 19 radio address on the subject of his subminimum-wage proposal for teen-age summer workers.
This is a crucial time for young job seekers, May being the month many firms make their summer hiring decisions.
Why are summer jobs so important for teen-agers? Well, because when young people are exposed to the world of work, they can reap a wealth of benefits that often remain with them for a lifetime--values of personal initiative, self-reliance and hard work, practical experience which teaches skills that impart confidence in the ability to compete in the permanent job market, the beginning of work history and references, which are vital to successful careers, and, of course, earnings, which can make the difference between going on to college and greater educational achievements or not.
I'll always remember my first job. I was fourteen at the time, and I wound up finding work with a construction company that was remodeling homes. By summer's end, I was laying hardwood floors, shingling roofs, and painting houses.
I recognize that a lot of rules and regulations have changed since then. Fourteen-year-olds can't receive those kinds of opportunities today. But what of those who receive no opportunity to work at all?
That is a crushing disappointment, not just for these individuals who may lose motivation and, eventually, self-respect, but also for our economy because we're literally throwing away America's most precious resource, our next generation.
The problem of teen-age unemployment is most severe among our black and other minority youth. For some time now, the unemployment rate among black youth has been more than twice as high as that for all youth. And while the current economic expansion has brought the overall unemployment rate down with record speed, the drop in black teen-age unemployment has been far less dramatic.
As of April, the unemployment rate for all youth, 16 through 19 years of age, was 19.4 percent. Among black teen-agers, that rate was 44.8 percent. If a 19.4 percentage unemployment rate is unacceptable, and it is, then a 44.8 percent unemployment rate is a national tragedy. And neither must be allowed to persist.
But one of the barriers to more jobs for youth is the single minimum wage system because the cruel truth is, while everyone must be assured a fair wage, there's no compassion in mandating $3.35 an hour for start-up jobs that simply aren't worth that much in the marketplace. All that does is quarantee that fewer jobs for teen-agers will be created and fewer young people hired.
So we're proposing youth employment opportunity wage legislation that can create more than 400,000 new summer jobs for youth. Our bill would allow employers to hire young people at a lower minimum wage during the summer months. And our legislation would do this without displacing adults. The bill explicitly prohibits employers from displacing adults to hire youth at the summer wage.
I'm delighted this concept has been endorsed by the National Conference of Black Mayors. Thanks to the strength of the economy, some eight and a half million young people are likely to be employed this summer, an increase over last year.
But America can do better, and must do better, if we're to bring those teen-age unemployment rates down further. I'm asking the Congress to pass our youth employment opportunity wage legislation. But I also want to request that all employers review their operations with the aim of creating more summer jobs.