In the ancient days known as B.C. (before cable TV), summer for teens meant (1) getting out of school and (2) students getting a summer job, at least part-time. But these days, as the Christian Science Monitor recently reported, summer seasonal jobs are turning very competitive. The article says that "summer jobs for teenagers" market never recovered from the recession of 2001, and in 2007 there is more competition from older workers for entry-level employment for summer months.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics has tracked the youth labor market (16-19-year-olds) since 1948. The BOLS says that teen employment for summer months has traditionally been above 50 percent, but starting in 1998, the numbers began dropping. Professor Andrew Sum Andrew Sum, an economist and head of Northeastern University’s Center for Labor Market Studies, forecasted (in April) that only 36.5 percent of teens will have employment for summer months; down from 45.3 percent in 2000.
My son entered the labor market this summer. He had to do a lot of digging to come up with a part-time bagger job at the local supermarket. By the time I was his age, I had worked mowing lawns, delivering newspapers, cooking fast food, and washing dishes at Deerfield Academy (I didn’t go there; I was a townie who served the rich kids).
Are my son and other teens today just slackers, or are there other factors at work in the hunt for summer seasonal jobs?
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Summer Jobs for Teenagers?
As reported in the Christian Science Monitor, Professor Sum notes several factors contributing to the lack of summer jobs for teenagers: (1) Immigrants taking summer seasonal jobs that used to go to young people. (2) People of retirement-age returning to the workforce in large numbers. (3) Competition from the college students; employers opt for more educated applicants. (4) Federal funding for seasonal summer jobs for teens has been cut since 2000 (as reported by Boston.com).
The newly-passed hike in the federal minimum wage will take effect in July. Wayne State University economics professor Robert J. Rossanaat told DetNews.com that the minimum wage increase will hinder teens from finding a job. On July 1, the federal minimum wage will increase from $6.95 an hour to $7.15. That means many employers, like those in Arizona, which had a living wage increase, may hesitate before hiring unskilled teens.
Summer Employment for Teachers
According to DetNews.com, businesses have had more job applicants for summer jobs this year than last, and have actually turned away job seekers since late spring. Many applicants are laid-off adults, older adults and even teachers with years of work experience who need a gig to tide them over.
Adults applying for waiter and waitress jobs (median salary in Washington State – $25,419) have an advantage over younger teens at restaurants and bars where alcohol is served. And there is more competition between the generations for summer camp jobs, lifeguard jobs (median salary – $14,244) and gigs at golf courses. Retailers are also hiring more older adults as retail sales associates (median salary with 1-4 years of experience – $15,311). If gas prices go up this summer, resort staff jobs may decrease.
Summer College Employment: Internships
It’s not all bad news for the young folks; some of them are opting for internships. Paid internships can pay up to $12 an hour and give teens an inside track on a profession that they want to pursue.
For highly desired college students (read: computer science majors at top colleges), an internship may be available for a 17 to 19 year-old at a company like Microsoft that pays much more: $1000/week is possible.
However, these paid internships are few and far between: this is not changing the lives of the millions of teens in America.
Girls Going To College Strike Again!
The reasons experts give above are all about a decline in jobs available to teens, and the decline in demand for teen workers.
However, last year researchers at the Chicago Federal Reserve Bank published an analysis of the BLS and other data that came to a different conclusion. The decline in teen participation is because teens have better things to do with their time; e.g., the job availability and wages are the same as they have always been, but the supply of teens interested in working is down.
What the researchers found is not that teens are playing video games and watching cable TV, but that they are attending school, pursuing unpaid internships, and otherwise increasing their educational opportunities.
The most stunning chart in the article showed the drop in workforce participation over the decades by teenage girls, which correlates completely with the rise in college attendance by women over the same period.
At least teen girls are getting the message that going to college is the way to get ahead in the long term. Even a higher minimum wage is no competitor for a college graduate salary.
While working entry-level and manual labor jobs is character building, I have to admit it is not the way for my son to get ahead financially. Not surprisingly, he will be quitting his job in a few weeks when he goes off to college.
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Dr. Al Lee