A Headstart For Kids Who Work

Educational reformers have fingered the after-school job as a prime culprit in the declining achievement of America's high school students. But whatever damage burger-flipping or gas-pumping may do to a pupil's homework, it appears to pay off in future earnings--especially for students who don't go on to college.

Kids who work during their sophomore, junior, or senior years earn substantially more than their nonworking counterparts six to nine years after graduation, says Christopher J. Ruhm, an economist at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Among seniors who never attended college, those who worked 10 hours a week gained 21% over their nonworking classmates. But college-bound workers gained only a 9% earnings edge over nonworking students who also went on to college.

Work had its biggest impact, Ruhm found, in the senior year: Getting a job earlier didn't measurably boost future earnings. The economist speculates that seniors are able to keep working for the same company after graduation--or at least make the school-to-work transition more smoothly than do their nonemployed classmates.