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January 24, 1996

Grades suffer for teens who work more than 20 hours a week

Grade point averages for teens working more than 20 hours a week during the school year tend to decrease and negative social behaviors increase, according to a new study completed by the Department of Labor & Industries.

"I would encourage parents to take a look at the results of this study and pay special attention to the findings related to those 16- and 17-year-olds working more than 20 hours a week," said Mark Brown, director of Labor & Industries. "There is a clear relationship between working more than 20 hours and lower grades and lowered school attendance."

The study, mandated by the 1994 state Legislature, looked at 20,000 students across three grades (10th, 11th and 12th grades). This represents nearly 9 percent of all Washington public school students. Of the nearly 1,700 public schools in Washington, about 187 were selected for the survey.c

An Educator's Focus Group, business and labor worked on the design of the study. The focus group also worked with Labor & Industries and arrived at the following conclusions:

  • Working more than 20 hours a week was associated with a decrease in the student's grade point average (GPA) and an increase in negative social behaviors.
  • The hours worked a week is indirectly associated with academic performance. Working more than 20 hours a week is a strong predictor of poor school attendance and a small amount of time spent on homework. Poor attendance and few hours invested in doing homework are strong predictors of low GPAs.
  • The highest percentage of students receiving "C's or less" were among students working more than 20 hours a week.
  • Students working in excess of 20 hours a week were more likely to be "moderate to high" drug and alcohol users.
  • Working more than 20 hours a week is associated with increased physical fights, carrying a weapon to school and other violent and dysfunctional behaviors.

"There are exceptions to the rule, but many working teens shouldn't be on the job more than 20 hours a week during school year," Brown said. "We hope this information will be of value to parents and school districts when they decide which 16- and 17-year-olds should be allowed to work more than 20 hours."

Data used in the study came from two sources:

-- Tenth and 12th grade responses were from the 1992 Washington State Survey of Adolescent Health Behaviors.

-- Eleventh grade information came from the 1992 through 1994 Washington State Assessment Program surveys.

Research subjects were divided into three sub-groups based on the number of hours worked - non-working, working less than 20 hours a week and working more than 20 hours a week.

The current teen work rules took effect in March 1993 after two years of public debate, advisory committee work and negotiations. Public hearings were held across the state by both the advisory committee and L&I.

Brown committed at the time the rules were adopted to review their effectiveness after 18 months. The Legislature, during the 1994 session, mandated that review be completed by the 1995 session.

The first phase of the review looked at the impact of the teen work rules on job availability, with the second phase looking at academic performance. The study, completed in December 1994, found that 82 percent of employers said the rules had no impact on hiring practices.

In a separate effort, L&I looked at workers' compensation claims filed from January 1988 through December 1991 by working minors revealing that working minors were injured on the job at nearly the same rate as adult workers even though they work less hours. The injury rate for 16- and 17-year-olds was 9.0 per 100 workers with the adult injury rate at 10.4 per 100 workers.

All studies are available from Labor & Industries. The injury study is available by calling 360-902-5669. The academic and impact on employment studies are available by calling 360-902-4742.

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