This summer, only a handful of American teenagers will have a job, despite what the New York Times calls the “archetypal” story of the summer job that builds character and helps adolescents save for the coming year. The percentages of teens who hold summer jobs has been shrinking steadily over the past decade. In 2000, 45 percent of teens worked, which makes the 1 in 4 statistic that much more shocking.
So why aren’t teens working over the summer? The question is whether it’s a choice, a lack of opportunity, or a combination of the two. One element is certainly the rise of academic pressures which encourage teens to enroll in summer school or apply for competitive programs. According to economist Teresa Morisi, higher rates of college enrollment, greater incentives for performing community service, and increased pressure to take difficult high school classes all work to encourage teens to pursue academic or service opportunities during the summer, accept internships, or even travel, rather than taking jobs. Dependence on financial aid also makes summer earnings less crucial in the struggle to pay for college.
But part of the issue is also that teens are less likely to successfully find jobs in the first place. According to Slate‘s Annie Lowrey, “teenagers have faced increased competition for those poorly paid summertime jobs in the retail, service, and construction sectors. There are more immigrants, both undocumented and documented, to compete against for low-paying gigs.”
This means that the teens who are actively searching for summer jobs are having an increasingly tough time finding work. And although college students do rely on financial aid, the student loan figures are enough to encourage anyone to earn some extra money during the summers. As Lowrey points out, the recession “inflated the rate of youth unemployment to levels unseen since modern record-taking started in the 1940s. It currently stands at 24.2 percent, and more than 40 percent for black teens.”
So although it’s true that fewer teens may be looking for jobs than they were ten years ago, the job hunt is also much more challenging than it was in 2000. I didn’t hold an official job until the summer after I had graduated from high school, but I also had the impression that I wouldn’t be able to find employment, so I didn’t look until then. In the summers beforehand, I would do month-long academic programs, but I’d also cobble together short-term dog-sitting or baby-sitting gigs to try to save some money. Summers are long, and a job would have been a great opportunity to fill my days with something productive, even when I wasn’t doing something to prepare for college. And I hate to think, given the current job market, what the situation is like now. It seems clear that teenagers aren’t being lazy, even though the numbers of teens with summer jobs is dropping. The jobs are just harder to find.
Photo from rutlo via flickr