The smell of fast food and greasy shirts is no longer an experience secluded to teenagers as the face of cashiers, disgruntled retail workers, and the pimply-faced teenager sweating over a fast food grill has changed.
The amount of teenagers working on minimum wage has been reduced by more than half in the past ten years, according to analyses by the Economic Policy Institute. In 2004, minimum wage workers aged 16 to 19 made up 25.9 percent of the market, compared to 10.2 percent today. In contrast, the 20 and over crowd rose by nearly 16 percent from 74.1 percent to 89.8 percent in the last ten years.
This shift mirrored nationwide as well.
From 1979 to 1998, slightly over a quarter of the minimum wage jobs were held by 16 to 19 year olds, but fell to 12 percent in 2011, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research. On the other hand, non-teenagers in the United States increased by nearly 15 percent from 72.7 percent in 1998 to 87.6 percent in 2013.
The change from teenagers looking for a summer job to pay college tuition or a gift for their girlfriend or boyfriend is no longer the true narrative of the average minimum wage worker – which mostly consists of working parents. Much of the shift can be attributed to the changing landscape of the economy after the recession and the need for additional income in family households.
“Historically it was meant to be that way,” said Eljeer Hawkins, 40, a longtime activist working to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour alongside the organization, 15Now! “It was meant for teenagers, going to school and getting their degree. Now they [the current older minimum wage workers] have families,” said Hawkins.
In response, New Yorkers have been demanding a higher minimum wage to keep up with the cost of living in the city where the average cost of breakfast, lunch, and dinner amounts to half of a full days work at the current minimum wage of $8-an-hour.
Midge Louis-Jeune, 22, saw the landscape for herself over the span of two years while working at the department store, Kohl’s.
“When I started there in 2010 there was a lot of younger people but towards the end they hired more older people,” said Louis-Jeune.
But, Louis-Jeune believes she has inkling on why.
“When you hire a younger person, you don’t assume that they are going to stay there forever,” said Louis-Jeune. “I would think it’s only temporary and that’s not how the older workers would think.”
Louis-Jeune joined the many nationwide young workers in leaving their minimum wage job to pursue higher degrees and careers.