Prom Spending Crazy, But Kids Still Deserve Equal Pay for Equal Work

One way to kill the argument for killing the youth minimum wage cut is to point out the foolishness on which kids spend their money, like three-hundred-dollar “promposals”:

One way to ask someone to a prom is to walk up to ask. Financial cost: nothing. But today we have “promposals” — the name for extravagant invitations to proms that are becoming increasingly popular in some schools around the country; a new survey says they are costing an average of $324 for 2015 [Valerie Strauss, “Families Are Spending Big Bucks on ‘Promposals’ (Extravagant Prom Invitations), Survey Says,” Washington Post, 2015.03.31].

You’d think such extravangance would be characteristic of the showy and wasteful rich. However, even more drastically than spending on tobacco, spending on prom appears to decrease as family income increases:

The less money a family makes, the more money they spend on prom.  A VISA survey says families that make less than $25,000 per year spend an average of $1,393 on prom.  Families that earn less than $50,000 spend an average of $1,109, and those with a household income of more than $50,000 spend $799 on prom. [Anna Peters, “Prom Spending and Promposals,”, 2015.04.24].

Now in terms of the youth minimum wage debate, that last paragraph notes that parents are increasingly responsible for this silly prom spending, so maybe the argument isn’t so much that wasteful spending justifies cutting the youth minimum wage as it is that wasteful spending justifies cutting everyone’s minimum wage. How dare you low-income kids and families spend money on things I find frivolous?! Your wastefulness makes your work less valuable to employers!

Ah, but there’s the problem with the argument that foolish spending justifies cutting wages. Wages do not reward workers for what they do on their own time. Wages compensate workers for what they do on the job. When Johnny and Mikayla each cleanly and effectively flip 500 burgers, Johnny and Mikayla each deserve the same wage for that burger flipping. They each added the same value to the burger joint’s operations, regardless of the fact that Johnny spent two cents on the note he slipped his crush in study hall to ask her to prom, while Mikayla hires a skywriter to ask her beau.

We can make the same moral and economic conclusion about any number of other differences in Johnny’s and Mikayla’s after-work lives. Johnny may use his burger-flipping wages to buy tomatoes, while Mikayla uses hers to buy beer. Johnny may foolishly invest in sham Lakota currency, while Mikayla more wisely buys Aberdeen Chamber Bucks. Johnny may kiss girls, while Mikayla kisses… girls. Johnny may be 17, while Mikayla is 19.

Our moral judgments on these off-clock behaviors and personal characteristics have no place in determining wages. On the clock, Johnny and Mikayla each flip 500 burgers, and they flip them well. Johnny and Mikayla deserve the same pay for the same work.

p.s.: On the positive side, we Midwesterners are the cheapest prom dates, spending “only” $733, 20% less than the national average

5 Responses to Prom Spending Crazy, But Kids Still Deserve Equal Pay for Equal Work

  1. Daniel Buresh

    Foolish spending by foolish people which will perpetuate their inability to be financially responsible. Don’t expect that family lineage to change anytime soon. You just can’t change some people’s situations.

  2. Dan appears to be saying that some people are unteachable, which, if true, all the more undermines the argument that we should cut kids’ pay to teach them a life lesson.

  3. Donald Pay

    These prom stories have run this time of year for several years, yet you never can find any scholarly articles which document the survey. It’s sort of like the mythic “war on Christmas” that conservatives charge is “waged” by “liberals” every December. What I have gathered is that these surveys ask what parents expect to pay for prom, not what kids/parents actually pay. Indeed, the last several years stories came out about how the actual costs for prom have been coming down.

    Still, it is worth considering why a poor parent might overestimate how much they will pay for their childrens’ prom.

  4. Joan Brown

    For several years the Yankton Press and Dakotan had a feature called Spotted where pictures of the kids attending various Yankton area proms were pictured. I had noticed especially last year the outfits didn’t seem to be near as extravagant. Some of the guys just wore plain suits instead of a tux, and a few would appear in nice jeans, shirt and tie. Some of the girls just wore regular clothes. A few days ago I went to the site for the Yankton paper and saw where that feature has been discontinued. I really looked forward to going to that and seeing what the kids were wearing, but I guess I can’t do that anymore.

  5. Deb Geelsdottir

    Back when I was a kid! ! ! ! ! . . . . . . . . . .

    Jeez, I expected to read that in the first comment. I guess Grudz hasn’t commented yet.