EDITORIAL

Shortchanging students

Artist Judy Taylor created a series of panels depicting important times in Maine's labor history, and they had been on display at the Maine Department of Labor offices in Augusta since 2008.  Panel 2: (center) Lost Childhood shows how child labor was common in Maine.
Courtesy of Judy Taylor Fine Art
Artist Judy Taylor created a series of panels depicting important times in Maine's labor history, and they had been on display at the Maine Department of Labor offices in Augusta since 2008. Panel 2: (center) Lost Childhood shows how child labor was common in Maine.
Posted April 05, 2011, at 7:22 p.m.

Jobs was the mantra of last fall’s election. Most probably didn’t think this meant jobs for kids.

But, a couple lawmakers are focusing their efforts on legislation to get kids to work longer hours and get paid less. This is not the way to move the state’s economy forward.

A bill that would allow students to work longer hours during the school year was narrowly passed by the Legislature’s Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee last week and is headed to the Senate for a vote.

LD 516, as amended, would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to work 24 hours a week during the school year, an additional four hours from current law. It also allows students to work until 11 p.m. The current law allows them to work until 10 p.m. The bill originally increased the number of hours to 32.

Hotel and restaurant owners argue that the increase is necessary for them to find the help they need. The big problem, they argue, is that students can’t work from 5 p.m. until 10 p.m. under current law, which restricts young workers to four hours per day on school nights.

Isn’t a major concern of business owners that they can’t find well-educated workers? If students are working when they should be studying — and maybe spending time with their family and friends — how does this improve the lack of an educated work force problem?

Numerous studies have found that the more hours students work, the worse they do in school and the more likely they are to drop out. For example, according to research published in the American Educational Research Journal, students who work more than 15 hours per week are more likely to drop out of high school. Another study, published in the Journal of Educational Research found that the more hours students worked, the worse they did in math and science, the very areas that employers say students need to be better prepared in.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Debra Plowman of Hampden, says the change is needed so students can help support their families.

Another bill, LD 1346, undermines this logic. The legislation would eliminate restriction on the number of hours worked by those under 18 and, worse, lower the wages that teen workers could be paid. Those under 20 could be paid a “training wage” of $5.25 an hour for the first 180 days they work, which conveniently would be an entire summer.

If lawmakers like Sen. Plowman and Rep. David Burns, R-Whiting, the sponsor of LD 1346, are truly concerned with helping families get by financially, they should work to ensure Maine students stay in school and get higher quality education that will prepare them for the work force and college. They should encourage their parents to go back to school and get up-to-date training, too.

Condemning multiple generations to working in low-wage jobs is not the recipe for the economic prosperity Maine seeks.

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