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The Economist: Youth Employment

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The author of this entry is responsible for this content, which is not edited by the Wilson County News or
April 29, 2015 | 3,620 views | 1 comment

It looks like there will be more jobs for teens this summer. According to outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, employment among teens (aged 16-19) is higher than it has been since 2009, which is a good indication of a more positive summer job outlook. In addition, various surveys indicate that employers are looking to do more summer hiring.

Last summer, things were already beginning to look up. The number of youth (defined as those ages 16 to 24) with jobs rose by 2.1 million between April and July according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The number of youth in the labor force grows sharply between April and July as students look for summer jobs; given the BLS age range, the increase also includes new graduates from college as well as high school who are entering the workforce permanently. About 51.9% of young people were employed in July 2014, up from 50.5% a year prior. The youth unemployment rate in July 2014 was 14.3%, down from 16.3% in July 2013.

One problem is that lingering unemployment and underemployment from the recession has pushed older and more qualified workers to seek jobs that in the past might have been open to youth. With so many more experienced and educated individuals ready to take any work they can find, the least qualified and experienced (and often youngest) job seekers are being pushed out. Although the overall rate of job growth in the economy has recently reached a level which will chip away at the slack in the labor market, the effects for youth will be slower to resolve.

At the same time, there has been a shift away from traditional summer jobs for high schoolers in particular. Explanations are many and varied, but the bottom line is that the numbers of teens (as defined in this dataset as 16-19 year olds) seeking work has fallen fairly dramatically since peaking in the late 1970s at about 57%. Recessions over the past decades played a role in this decline, with rates slipping sharply with economic contractions. However, even during an expansionary period, participation rates were generally flat. From the 1970s through about 2000, more than half of teens worked, but over the past few years less than 35% have worked. Moreover, when asked, an increasing number say they do not want a job. Using the broader BLS age range (16-24 year olds) also shows a large decline, from 77.5% in 1989 to 60.5% in July 2014.

Explanations for the lack of participation include increased time spent on other activities such as athletics and summer camps of various kinds. Cultural shifts may also be contributing, with parental and societal expectations shifting away from teen work. Some are opting for college admissions resume builders such as volunteer work or special projects. Others are engaging in personal development ranging from college admissions test preparation to any number of other opportunities. Ask a room full of teens, and you’ll get a spectrum of reasons.

The long-term effects of working as a teen have been studied, with a general finding that being unemployed while young sets that stage for lower lifetime earnings. It is difficult, however, to separate out causes and effects. Teens driven to work at younger ages tend to also be driven to work at older ages, for example. In addition, those coming out of college while the economy is soft may start at lower salaries and take longer to work their way up. Such factors cloud the issue, but don’t obscure the bottom-line finding that youth unemployment is much higher than rates among older ages.

The availability of jobs for those who need or want them is desirable, and there have long been efforts to increase youth employment from both the public sector and private corporations. As an illustration, JPMorgan Chase is investing $5 million in summer youth employment initiatives in 14 cities across the United States, part of a $250 million global workforce readiness effort. Ideally, summer work would help prepare young people for future jobs not only through the accumulation of non-specific soft job skills, but also with knowledge they can carry forward to get a leg up in their chosen careers.
The recession clearly limited the numbers of options for teens over the past few years. Now that the job situation is improving, it will be interesting to see whether more youth elect to pursue traditional summer work or other pursuits.

Dr. M. Ray Perryman is President and Chief Executive Officer of The Perryman Group ( He also serves as Institute Distinguished Professor of Economic Theory and Method at the International Institute for Advanced Studies.
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Doseido Colony  
May 6, 2015 7:36am
Why work when both Daddy and Mommy are working to buy them cell phones, IPads and other gadgets that lend themselves to unproductive self indulgences without any effort on their part. Teenagers may be the newest class of... More ›

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