by Robert Carbery
American teenagers aren’t working anymore. Summer jobs are becoming a thing of the past. But is that such a bad thing?
I’ve at least had a summer job or worked somewhat throughout the year since I was in eighth grade. From lifeguarding, to summer camp counseling, and constructing firework stands. I’ve put in some work over some hot summer days in between school years. These days, that amount of early work history is becoming less and less common.
Ben Steverman wrote an illuminating piece in Bloomberg recently about the trend of teenagers working less and less in the U.S.
For generations past, the summer job was a rite of passage of sorts. It taught one responsibility and how to manage money. Today, however, teenagers have other things to do that are higher up on their list than slaving away at some fast food joint over the summer.
Teens usually work in July, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Last July, 43% of 16 to 19 year olds were either working or looking for a job. That number is 10 points lower than July 2006. In 1989, the labor force participation rate for teenagers was 70%. So this is a trend that has shown few signs of slowing down over the last few decades.
Recessions really hit teen labor participation rates hard. However, as the economy recovers, teen labor never seems to bounce back. Projections have the teen labor force to drop to under 27% by 2024, which is 30 points lower than the peak set in 1989.
Why is this occurring?
For one, there is more competition. Older Americans are now working much longer well past age 65 and at the highest rates in over 50 years. Immigrants are also competing with teenagers for jobs. However, teens are also likely not working because their parents are pushing their kids to do more volunteer work or extracurricular activities which would look better on a college application.
It turns out the kids might not be lazy and therefore not looking for work after all. In fact, they may actually be studying more.
Over the last few decades, education has taken up more and more time for young students as school days get longer and school years extend. More is demanded of students these days as academic loads get heavier, taking up more and more of teenagers’ times, even in the summers. Many also take summer school courses for college credit just to stay with the rest of the pack. Last July, over 40% of 16 to 19 year olds were enrolled in school — four times as many as in 1985.
Spending too much time in the classroom can be detrimental to a young person’s development. Working gives teens a chance to learn how to deal with bad bosses, show up to work on time, and get along with different co-workers. There’s nothing like what you get back from a hard day’s work. But today, the educational demands put on these young students is immense and pushing them away from work.
What is best? Who really knows. Maybe engaging in more sports or other extracurricular activities can be of similar developmental benefit for a teenager over the summer. There are many people who never work a day in their life until after college and they turn out just fine. So who’s to say they know what’s really the best use of one’s time over these hot summer days?
It’s up to each individual kid and their parent to decide what to do in the end. If it were up to me, I would still choose to work. But you gotta do what you gotta do.
by Robert Carbery