Expert Commentary

Early 2000s: A period of declining teen summer employment rates

2010 study by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics published in Monthly Labor Review on teen summer-employment trends.

In the United States the summer job has long been thought of as a rite of passage for teenagers. However, a 2010 study by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) suggests that youth seasonal employment has been steadily declining since 2001, long before the 2007-2008 recession.

The study, “Early 2000s: A Period of Declining Teen Summer Employment Rates,” was published in Monthly Labor Review and tracks teen employment between 1948 and 2009. The researcher analyzed data from approximately 60,000 households in the Current Population Survey (CPS) to assess trends among youth ages 16-19 throughout this period.

Key study findings include:

  • The teen summer employment rate held steady at approximately 50% from 1950 to 2000 before steadily declining after 2000: it went from 51.5% in the summer of 2000 to 48% in 2001; it then declined further to 41.7% (2003), 37.4% (2008) and 32.9% (2009). (According to CPS data from April 2012, the employment rate for youth ages 16-19 in July 2011 was 24.9%.)
  • “Teens in families with higher educational attainment exhibited a decrease in the time they spent in paid employment and an increase in their rates of volunteering.… [A related study] indicated that teens in the most highly educated families spent much more time in ‘traditional’ activities, including extracurricular activities, reading and writing, and pursuing hobbies.”
  • More teens are enrolling in summer school programs than in the past. “More than half (53%) of youths aged 16-19 years were enrolled in school sometime during the summer of 2009, a percentage close to three times higher than that 20 years earlier.” Students typically enroll to “catch up” on missing coursework or to prep for future college work as competition for preferred colleges grows.
  • “Reduced funding and additional program restrictions, as well as increases in Federal and State minimum wages, have resulted in municipalities offering fewer summer jobs.” In particular, federal funding for summer teen employment, designed to help students save for college, dropped 8% between 1999 and 2009.
  • Between 1948 and 2000, the summer employment rate for young women rose while the rates for young men declined; since 2000, the employment rates for both declined by approximately 20 percentage points.
  • Between 2000 and 2009, summer employment rates for all ethnic groups declined between 15 and 20 percentage points. White youth experienced the most dramatic decline, from 56.4% to 36.8% employment.

While some of the decline in teen employment is likely explained by an increased focus on education, the researchers concluded that “there is evidence as well that the types of jobs that teens would normally fill have become scarcer: not only is there increased competition for such jobs from other groups, but also, fewer summer jobs are funded through government programs.”

Tags: youth, employment

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