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Protecting Youth at Work: Health, Safety, and Development of Working Children and Adolescents in the United States
The biggest employer of adolescents is the retail sector—restaurants, fast-food outlets, grocery stores, and other retail stores—which employs more than 50 percent of all working 15-to 17-year-olds. The next biggest employer is the service sector (e.g., health-care settings such as nursing homes), which accounts for more than 25 percent of working adolescents, followed by 8 percent employed in agriculture. Several of the industries in these sectors of the economy have high rates of injury for all workers. Rates of injury are high, for example, in grocery stores and nursing homes, and agriculture is among the most dangerous industries in the country, with a high rate of fatal injuries.
Some parts of the youth population face unique problems related to work. Children and adolescents who are poor, minority, or disabled are far less likely than white, middle-class young people to be employed and, therefore, to reap the potential benefits of work experience. Furthermore, the jobs that poor and minority young people have tend to be in more dangerous industries. When they do work, the hours they work and the wages they receive are comparable to those of other youngsters.
Consequences and Risks of Work
Adolescence occupies a crucial role in contemporary human development, for several interrelated reasons. It is a period of potentially great malleability and tremendous variability. It is an especially important formative period, during which many developmental trajectories become established and increasingly difficult to alter.
Working has been shown to be associated with both positive and negative consequences for adolescents. Working may increase responsibility, self-esteem, and independence and may help children and adolescents learn valuable work skills. Employment that is limited in intensity (usually defined as 20 hours or less per week) during high school years has been found to promote post-secondary educational attainment. Many studies show positive links between working during high school and subsequent vocational outcomes, including less unemployment, a longer duration of employment after completing schooling, and higher earnings.
However, high-intensity work (usually defined as more than 20 hours per week) is associated with unhealthy and problem behav-