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Minority Students Handle Part-Time Jobs Better

teenagers, job opportunities Credit: Working Teen image via Shutterstock

Working long hours after school has a greater effect on white high school students than it does on minorities, new research shows.

A study by researchers at the University of Michigan and Penn State University found that African-American and Hispanic students who pack in the hours at a part-time job when the school day ends are less likely than white students to see their grades suffer, as well as less inclined to smoke and drink.

"We know from previous research that for most students, working more than 15 hours a week is associated with various problems, including lower grades and substance use," said the study's lead author, Jerald Bachman, from the University of Michigan. "However, what we're finding with this new research is that this pattern does not seem to appear among some minority students, particularly those who come from a less advantaged background."

Overall, the study found that white students were more likely than minority students to work during the school year. Among 10th-graders, 43 percent of white students worked compared with 29 percent of African-Americans, 31 percent of Hispanics and 26 percent of Asian-Americans. Among high school seniors, 72 percent of white students worked compared with 57 percent of African-Americans, 59 percent of Hispanics and 53 percent of Asian-Americans.

The research revealed that grade point averages among white and Asian-American students dropped dramatically the more hours they worked, while the GPAs of Hispanics and African-Americans showed less connection with hours worked.

Bachman said affluent kids arguably have the least need to work during their student days.

"When they do work, they seem to suffer more in terms of grades and substance use," he said. "At least this is true for white and Asian-American students, whereas spending long hours on the job appears to be less harmful for African-American and Hispanic students."

Bachman cautions, however, that the study's findings do not prove there is a direct correlation between working and poor grades or behavior.

 "Many kids who choose to work long hours already show evidence of some problems beforehand and may have a more 'rebellious' nature," he said. "But in our view, the evidence certainly does not rule out the possibility that the long hours of work add to the problems."

The researchers suggest that students should avoid long hours of work in part-time jobs during the school year and, ideally, they should work less than 15 hours a week. In addition, those who do work should try to build their reputation as a bright, courteous and motivated worker.

"As soon as they begin new jobs, students should tell employers and supervisors that they hope to earn a good letter of recommendation," Bachman said."If they say that right at the outset, it will help everyone view the job as an important opportunity for growth and education."

The study, co-authored by Michigan's Patrick M. O’Malley and Peter Freedman-Doan and Penn State's Jeremy Staff, was based on surveys of 314,959 10th-graders and 276,026 12th-graders. Students reported their average hours of work during the school year, their GPA and their levels of substance use, including cigarette smoking, marijuana smoking and alcohol consumption. Demographic information included gender, race/ethnicity, parental education and income, mother’s employment status and how often the student had been absent from school in the last month.

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Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based freelance writer who has nearly 15 years experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter.