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What's going on with summer jobs?

Jun. 5, 2018
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Most teen movies portray some combination of first crushes, first heartbreaks, cliques, adventures, and first jobs, the latter which is generally depicted as summer jobs. At least, in the past they did. But life imitates art, and in recent trends, teens have opted out of summer employment. The jobs have not disappeared, and of course, there are plenty of teens who work, but the numbers are decreasing. The labor force participation rate among the teenage demographic is 34.8% versus nearly 56% in 1989. So, what’s going on with summer jobs?


Unemployment is the lowest it’s ever been in the past 17 years. Limited open positions directly correlate to lower chances of employment. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics used staffing firm Challenger, Gray, & Christmas to measure the latest trends of the younger workforce. Reports show that Americans between the ages of 16-19 gained 1.3 million jobs in the summer of 2017, which is 4% lower than that of the previous year. Many jobs in food and retail are occupied by adult workers or immigrant workers. The Center of Economic and Policy Research shows that 60% of fast food workers are now between the ages of 20-54.


High performance-related expectations in today’s education system have shifted towards the pursuit of teen time-management. Now, teens feel more concerned about polishing portfolios and resumes. Teens often spend time looking for internships, enrolling in summer education programs, or focusing on mandatory summer assignments. Consequently, young people are limited in their availability for a job—school has been dubbed more important.

Retail and customer service are not considered great resume builders, so teens skip those experiences. Hence, there’s a cycle: the aggravation comes when “four years of experience” and “bachelor’s degree” are listed requirements for an entry-level, non-skill-specific job. 


Older adults, foreign-born adults, and retired adults all tend to have more experience and greater accountability than their younger counterparts. Such factors shrink the odds of teens being hired. Plain and simple.

Another factor stopping employers from hiring teens involves restrictive employment laws. Employers need to make the most from the funds in the budget. When busy times come, employers don’t have time to maneuver around labor laws. According to federal law, teens may not work more than four hours on a school day. Working past 7 PM from Labor Day until June 1 in not permitted, and the cut-off time is only extending to 9 PM during the summer.

Those are all major factors in why the number of teens with summer jobs may be dwindling. Knowing what teens are up against is helpful, but there is more to know.

Surprisingly contrary to what would be a popular belief, teens from low-income families are less likely to work than middle-class and lower upper-class families. It’s not that they do not want to work—low-income families likely need more paychecks being brought to the house. But teens with unemployed or low income-earning parents typically live in areas with fewer job opportunities, and they likely lack the network and connections middle-class parents typically have.

Altogether, restrictive and increasingly heightened societal expectations are rattling the summer job scene for youth. Jobs are scarce overall, inevitably minimizing opportunity. In this endless loop, those with experience ultimately stifle those seeking the chance to gain experience. Simply put, the change in America’s economic and social culture has shifted priorities and focus regarding the teen workforce. The perspectives are different. In today’s world, working and preparing for your future is not exactly the same as it was years ago. Before criticizing the upcoming generation, it’s crucial to remember that we are living in a new time.