Teen employment rate continues to decline

by Grace

Teen summer employment has been in steady decline since the 1970s.


To understand what’s happened to the Great American Summer Job, we looked at the average employment rate for 16- to 19-year-olds for June, July and August (teen employment typically peaks in July of each year). Since 1948, which is as far back as the data go, through subsequent decades, teen summer employment followed a fairly regular pattern: rising during economic good times and falling during and after recessions, but generally fluctuating between 46% (the low, in 1963) and 58% (the peak, in 1978).

That pattern began to change after the 1990-91 recession, when the teen summer employment rate barely rebounded. Teen summer employment again fell sharply after the 2001 recession and again failed to rebound, and fell even more sharply during and after the Great Recession of 2007-09. After bottoming out in 2010 and 2011 at 29.6%, the teen summer employment rate has barely budged – it was 31.6% last summer.

For younger teens, the summer-jobs picture is especially bleak. Last year’s summer employment rate for 16- to 17-year-olds was 20%, less than half its level as recently as 2000. For 18- and 19-year-olds, the summer employment rate last year was 43.6%, still well below the 62.6% average rate in the summer of 2000.

Why the decline?

… Researchers have advanced multiple explanations for why fewer young people are finding jobs: fewer low-skill, entry-level jobs than in decades past; more schools restarting before Labor Day; more students enrolled in high school or college over the summer; more teens doing unpaid community service work as part of their graduation requirements or to burnish their college applications; and more students taking unpaid internships, which the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not consider being employed.


Drew DeSilver, “The fading of the teen summer job”, Pew Research, June 23, 2015.

2 Comments to “Teen employment rate continues to decline”

  1. 19 year olds are college age. Certainly virtually all my students work in the summer, as well as during the year.But I think things have changed a lot for the high school set. It isn’t just that working has fallen out of favor with that group, although that is a factor, especially at higher income levels. I think another factor is that the labor market has changed a lot. When I was in high school, it was common for kids to work at places like the supermarket, the Kmart, the movie theater, and of course fast food. They would work almost fulltime in summer and then reduce hours during the school year. Now, though, it is harder for kids to work during the school year, and employers don’t want summer only employees. Why is it harder for kids to work during the school year? One reason is that school is simply more demanding than it used to be – more homework, more requirements. The other reason, though, is that employers are also more demanding. They are more used to hiring adults now who are willing to be available at any time and to work more shifts. Many employers in the service industries, including fast food, now require workers to be available around the clock, which is obviously impossible for kids in school. And parents (and state laws) don’t want their kids to close, but many employers want workers who can close.

    Take a look at the people working in the local supermarkets, the gas stations, and the Dunkin Donuts. You won’t see many teens. Instead, you will see adult immigrants.


  2. Yes, the jobs picture has changed. The overall labor participation rate has fallen, particularly for workers under the age of 55.


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