During the past few decades, increasing numbers of school-aged youth have joined the formal labor force of the United States (Greenberger & Steinberg, 1986; Institute of Medicine, 1998). Parents and professionals observing this development assumed that the benefits outweighed the costs of part-time school-year employment (Stephens, 1979). Although positive benefits to working have been observed, negative effects of employment have also been documented, especially as hours of weekly work increased (Steinberg & Cauffman, 1995; Carr et al., 1996). There appears to be a threshold beyond which negative effects are more likely than positive ones (Bachman & Schulenberg, 1993; Steinberg & Cauffman, 1995; Chaplin & Hannaway, 1996). For example, several studies have reported negative effects on school performance and engagement when students work past 20 hours a week during the school year, and past 15 hours for younger students (Steinberg & Cauffman, 1995; Ruggiero, 1984; Schoenhals et al., 1997). Other studies found similar thresholds for health risk behaviors, future educational attainment, school misconduct, and parent-adolescent relations (Steinberg & Cauffman, 1995; Ruggiero, 1984; Manning, 1990; Steinberg & Dornbusch, 1991; Bachman & Schulenberg, 1993). Still other studies reported that working fewer than 10 hours weekly posed little risk to most high school students and might be beneficial (Steinberg & Cauffman, 1995).
Although a number of nationally representative longitudinal studies, surveys of regional samples, and cross-sectional studies have reported the effects of school-year work on adolescent development, scant information is available on the effects of different work intensity levels among minority and low-income populations (Institute of Medicine, 1998). Further, there is no information specifically from rural Southwestern areas of the nation, where economically disadvantaged and Hispanic students are heavily represented. This paper reports on a cross-sectional study of the effects of school-year employment among high school students in rural South Texas, a large proportion of whom are poor and Hispanic.
We examined the effect of different work intensity levels on four categories of outcome variables: (1) school performance and engagement, (2) health risk behaviors, (3) social life, and (4) physical and mental health issues. This study sought to document the relation between these factors and weekly work intensity in order to assist in prioritizing prevention efforts directed at reducing negative outcomes in these young workers.
During May 1995, data in this descriptive, cross-sectional study were collected as part of the Safe and Drug Free Schools (SDFS) Program's regular assessment of the prevalence of substance use among Texas Education Agency Region Two students, who represented 23 high schools in 11 contiguous counties in South Texas. This data collection provided an opportunity to examine issues of employment in relation to health and behavior.
The SDFS program coordinator contacted all 42 school districts in these counties. Thirteen districts declined to participate due primarily to time constraints. Participating and nonparticipating districts were located in small towns and rural areas except for a single, small urban area in the nonparticipating group. The distributions were quite similar among participating and nonparticipating districts in terms of student ethnic characteristics and parent education. The median for Hispanic students in participating districts was 72%; about 60% of the students in participating districts were eligible to receive free or reduced-cost lunches (Texas Education Agency, 1993).
The total student population in the participating high schools was 12,770. At the larger schools, classes were randomly selected by grade from a master list of second-period classes. …