Only 1 in 4 American Teens Have a Summer Job

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


iii q.
g d c5 years ago

there are PLENTY of volunteer opportunities...
they don't have to sit idle, just because they cannot get a paying job...

jane richmond
jane richmond6 years ago


K s Goh
KS Goh6 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Amanda M.
Amanda M6 years ago

When I was a teenager, I was working pretty steadily at different jobs. I started doing babysitting jobs at 13 (my parents required me to complete the Red Cross babysitting class first), then when I was 14 I started working at the local dance studio as an assistant dance teacher (I took classes there, so that was an automatic in). When I was 16, Mom suggested I complete the Red Cross lifeguard training course and get a job in that field, since it paid well and was in high demand. I did, and spent five summers and three years in college working as a lifeguard (during my high school years, it was lifeguarding in the summer and assistant dance teaching in the school year). Through all that, I also kept working the odd babysitting gig until I turned 21 and people were starting to mistake my charges for my own children! About the same time, I also traded my lifeguard whistle for a security guard badge. I stayed in that field for eight years, and then I took off the badge to become a stay-at-home mom.

Not that it's all been easy-I remember one fall I took a semester off from college (lousy grades despite my studying my butt off-that's when I was tested and we found out I'm a hands-on learner instead of a book learner like my parents), and once the summer pool season ended, I had a hell of a time finding a job in the stores near home. The reason? Those two dreaded words "experience required." I remember grumbling in one store after they turned down my application that "H

Amber K.
Amber K6 years ago

Getting a job as a student is hard, I think we can all agree on that.
Really, what I think it comes down to is what sort of contacts you have. I got my first job at a school holiday programme because the woman I babysat for put in a good word for me.
Most of my friends got their jobs in a similar way.
That, and it helps to apply to the right place at the right time.

Chloe M.
Chloe M6 years ago

the answer lies in the economy

Lori Ann Hone
Lori Hone6 years ago

There are no jobs for their parents, let alone jobs for 16-20 year olds.

NT T6 years ago

I live in Florida and my teenage son has had a very hard time finding a job for the summer over the past four years. Too many non-US citizens are getting their jobs :-(

Vince D.
Vince D6 years ago


Maybe Vermont's parents have spoiled their kids causing this. In PA, there are LOTS of kids looking for work, and yes they work. I have college age tenants begging for work, and by the way the kids graduating are moving back with their parents because of the economy.

pete M.
peter m6 years ago

Oh I forgot in Maine we have the same problem, these cry babies make the employers sick.
There is a known shortage for summer & fast food workers in America for years especially in Vt. we have had to import them in from where ever, usually Canada etc and pay them a bonus if they work the full season.
Because we have almost no American takers.;all spoiled slackers.
Spoiled lazy cry-babies and the parents just keep crying as much as the kids.
No wonder we are falling behid other countries.
No wonder we only have foreigners working fast food and the mentally challenged do a decent job as well.

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