The End of the High School Summer Job?

In sharp contrast to past generations, few teens are now spending their summer vacations working paid jobs.

A study released June 23 by the Pew Research Center found that teen summer employment dropped to just 31.6% last summer. For younger teens, aged 16 and 17, summer employment was only 20% — less than half what it was as recently as 2000. Older teens, aged 18 and 19, fared better at 43.6%. But that’s still almost 20 percentage points below the 62.6% average of 2000.

It’s not surprising that teen employment figures have fallen during the most recent recessions, since overall employment has too. But what is surprising is that the teen job market failed to rebound after both the 1990-91 and 2007-09 recessions. Between 1948 (which is as far back as the data goes) and 1990, teen employment rose in healthy economies and fell as the economy contracted. But the most recent figures represent only a small gain compared to the lowest post-recession point of 29.6%, reached in 2010-11.

Employment isn’t equal across racial and social groups, either. White teens are far more likely to land summer jobs than their black, Hispanic or Asian peers; a rough estimate of last summer’s employment demographics indicate that about 84.2% of teen job holders were white.

Challenges for Job-Seeking Teens
Why is it that fewer teens are finding jobs? While the Pew Study didn’t attempt to give a definitive answer, it did float a few suggestions.

One is simply that fewer low-skill, entry-level jobs are now available to teens. Underemployment (referring to the phenomenon of workers taking jobs they are overqualified for) is rampant, with even many college graduates taking entry-level positions before moving on to more permanent careers. Recent figures show that by age 35, a full 25% of workers have had five or more jobs.

Longer school years, with high schools often starting up prior to Labor Day, may also make it difficult for teens to find jobs over summer vacation.

And finally, it appears that increasing numbers of teens are taking unpaid internships either to fulfill graduation requirements or round out their college graduations, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not account for such unpaid work in its employment data.

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