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Federal bill aims to expand working hours for teens

The TEENS Act would expand workable hours for affected teenagers to span from 7 a.m. until 9 p.m., as well as increase the number of workable hours during a school week to 24.

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Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., speaks at a gathering in Sioux Falls in 2019.
Forum News Service file photo
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WASHINGTON — A new bill introduced by South Dakota’s lone U.S. Representative aims to increase the number of hours teenagers are able to work during the school week, a move believed to increase work participation among youth as the nation grapples with low unemployment.

Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., on Thursday introduced the Teenagers Earning Everyday Necessary Skills (TEENS) Act, which would loosen federal work hour limitations on 14- and 15-year-olds in the United States.

Under current labor laws, 14- and 15-year-olds are currently limited to working 18 hours per week — or less than two-and-a-half eight-hour shifts — during the school year and may not work past 7 p.m. on school nights.

“It might seem trivial to go after an app known for viral dance videos, but TikTok is a national security concern," Johnson said.

The TEENS Act would expand workable hours for affected teenagers to span from 7 a.m. until 9 p.m., as well as increase the number of workable hours during a school week to 24.

“If a high school student can play in a football game until 9 p.m. or play video games late into the evening, they should also be allowed to hold a job if they wish to,” Johnson said. “The TEENS Act provides a reasonable accommodation for hardworking young Americans. As our nation faces an unprecedented labor shortage, flexibility is needed more than ever.”

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Unemployment rates across the country fell to 3.5% in July, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, returning to pre-pandemic levels. Though up to 3.7% nationally in August, employers often struggle to find employees as unemployment rates drop.

In Johnson’s home state, the South Dakota Department of Labor reported an unemployment rate of 2.3% in July, the lowest percentage recorded in the past two decades. In Mitchell, Johnson’s hometown which has a population of over 15,000, fewer than 300 eligible workers were unemployed in July 2021, which led businesses to begin offering additional incentives to prospective employees, including hiring bonuses consisting of thousands of dollars.

Across the border, Minnesota’s unemployment rate sits even lower, at 1.8%, while North Dakota’s unemployment rate comes in at 2.3%, slightly higher than the 2% rate recorded in the months leading up to the pandemic.

South Dakota and Minnesota rank second and third in the nation in terms of labor force participation, each recording rates above 68%. The lowest-ranking states, Mississippi and West Virginia, recorded participation rates of 53% and 54.2%, respectively.

Labor participation rates, however, only counts Americans who are 16 and older, and does not include 14- and 15-year-olds, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Pew Research Center found that while nearly 60% of American teens had summer jobs in the 1980s and 90s, that number has fallen to roughly one-in-three.

Nathan Sanderson, executive director of the South Dakota Retailers Association, said Johnson’s bill would create more opportunities for teens.

“As the father of a teenager, I’ve seen firsthand how work experiences build confidence, develop new skills, instill responsibility, and create a sense of pride in a job well done,” he said.. “Many mom-and-pop entrepreneurs across South Dakota started their own businesses because of jobs they held as teenagers, and we appreciate Rep. Johnson’s efforts to create even more great opportunities for young people.”

The National Restaurant Association and the National Fireworks Association (NFA) have both endorsed the bill.

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“The National Fireworks Association, an organization comprised of over 1,000 members, believes that hard work, and the results from it, are what Americans believe in and what makes this country great.” the NFA’s board said in a statement. “Congressman Johnson’s TEENS Act is something that is grounded in the values we believe in.”

Though the bill hadn't been listed on the official website of the U.S. Congress as of Thursday morning, a copy was provided by Johnson’s office.

TEENS Act by Hunter Dunteman on Scribd

A South Dakota native, Hunter joined Forum Communications Company as a reporter for the Mitchell (S.D.) Republic in June 2021. After over a year in Mitchell, he moved to Milwaukee, where he now works as a digital reporter for Forum News Service, focusing on regional news that impacts the Dakotas, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
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