Number of employed high schoolers at lowest level in more than 20 years

by Grace

The American job market is no place for students as the number of employed high schoolers has hit its lowest level in more than 20 years, according to new figures from the National Center for Education Statistics.

In 1990, 32 percent of high school students held jobs, versus just 16 percent now. Blame their elders.

Sectors that traditionally have offered teens their first paying gig — fast-food chains, movie theaters, malls and big-box retailers — have now become the last resorts for out-of-work college graduates or older Americans forced back into the labor force out of sheer financial necessity. The resulting squeeze has left students on the outside looking in.

The recession and an increasing focus on school can be blamed for the high teen unemployment rate.  It’s important to make good grades a priority, but lack of work experience can make it harder to find a job after college graduation.

In the long run, the trend could produce more and more young adults who lack the basic skills, such as how to interact with a customer, gained while working early in life. The longer a young person goes without a job, Mr. Sum said, the less attractive he or she looks to employers.

“There’s only one way you can learn how to work — you’ve got to work,” he said.

Related:  College grads need ‘real-world’ skills before they can get ‘real’ jobs

6 Comments to “Number of employed high schoolers at lowest level in more than 20 years”

  1. I agree that not many local high school students are looking for jobs. They don’t need the money and/or they’re too busy with extracurricular activities. A McDonald’s stint would actually enhance their college app, IF it also allowed them time to do the other “find a cancer cure” types of activities. However, the local teens who do want jobs (and more of them do after graduating high school) find the competition tough for local openings. At least that’s what I’ve seen based on personal experience and a few observations, I have to believe the recession has some effect on this.

    I also wonder if some of these employers find that recent immigrants are better employees than local kids are. These immigrants or older workers might be harder working, willing to work longer hours, and need less training. Plus, once an employer has established a core group of workers from a certain class and ethnic background, it might be harder for a local teen to get a foot in the door and be successful there. I have stories . . .


  2. I’ve read that jobs look good on a college application. Here’s a snippet from one recent article:

    Too many teens and their parents assume a carefully assembled montage of bought-and-paid-for camps or overseas service trips will be their admission ticket to a competitive college. In fact, Seth Allen, immediate past president of The Common Application, a group of 400 colleges and universities that use a standardized undergraduate application form, regards this as a widespread misconception, “that getting a paid job isn’t nearly as valuable an experience as going to a physics boot camp or building homes for the less fortunate on a Caribbean island.”

    I think menial jobs can teach very valuable skills. My teen jobs taught me a lot, and my son would say the same thing about his first job busing tables. Just learning about the real world of working, customer service, unreasonable and reasonable bosses, etc. is something you often cannot learn anywhere else. These things do relate to later jobs, and are just good life experiences, also.


  3. Well, I don’t work in admissions, but I am on a committee that makes decisions on a merit scholarship (one that pays quite a bit). Most of our applicants, of course, do have lots of menial job experience, but the committee pays no attention to that. They only look for experience that shows commitment to science in some way.


  4. Most of our students do in fact work at minimum wage type jobs, and I can’t say it does much for them. In fact, what I see is that the most inarticulate and unskilled students are the most likely to be working in low level jobs. Thinking about the mostly horrendous customer service in places like Kmart or Best Buy, I doubt kids have much to learn in those places. Busing tables in a real restaurant may be different. Back when I was in school, restaurant jobs were considered to be “better” and more difficult to get – also higher paid.


  5. A commissioned sales position (even just mall retail) would be much more educational. Kmart and Best Buy are built on the no-customer-service model, which I agree doesn’t have a lot to teach. Best Buy also represents a dying model–why bother to go there and get ripped off when you can go on the internet and get no service just as well? I’m not an extroverted person, but when I worked summers in college at the family store, I had to talk to strangers a lot and learn enough wiles to get them to stick around and shop. At the end of a good day, my dad would hand out hundred-dollar bills all around, on top of usual hourly wages.


  6. I don’t think job experience without the other credentials would be an advantage on a college application. But all other things being equal, it probably adds a boost. The 4.0 science fair winner who also worked summers would probably be more impressive than the 4.0 science fair winner who paid to go on a summer volunteer trip, for example.


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