Is the Teen Summer Job a Relic of the Past?

Reports on the disappearing teen summer job may reflect on a weak economy or weak teens or both.

From the reporting, it is hard to say if the teen summer job is vanishing because teens don’t want to work or because there aren’t jobs for them to do. I suspect that confusion is due to a lack of economic awareness in the media, or else an intentional effort to hide the role of minimum wage laws, which are nowhere mentioned in this Associated Press story: “Kids Today: They Don’t Work Summer Jobs the Way They Used to.

In July 1986, 57 percent of Americans ages 16 to 19 were employed. The proportion stayed over 50 percent until 2002 when it began dropping steadily. By last July, only 36 percent were working.

Economists and labor market observers worry that falling teen employment will deprive them of valuable work experience and of opportunities to encounter people of different ethnic, social and cultural backgrounds.

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But the longer-term trend for teen employment is down and likely to stay that way for several reasons:

– Teenagers and their parents are increasingly aware of the value of a college education. A result is that more kids are spending summers volunteering or studying, to prepare for college and compete for slots at competitive schools.

In July 1986, just 12 percent of Americans ages 16 to 19 were taking summer classes. Thirty years later, the share had risen to 42 percent.

“Parental emphasis on the rewards of education has contributed to the decline in teen labor force participation,” Teresa Morisi, a Labor Department economist, concluded in a February report on teen employment, which has been declining in the United States and other wealthy countries.

Does anyone believe, with all the millennials living in their parents’ basements overwhelmed with student debt, that parents are more aware of the “value” of education?

Maybe more teens are taking summer classes because they failed a course during the regular school year. Or else they can’t find people to hire them and are thus turning to summer classes as better than wasting their summer. The story mentions that some traditional teen summer jobs are going to older people. But that could easily be explained by rising minimum wage law. Teens were desirable as employees when they were cheap labor.

The story also mentions that summers are shorter because of schools swallowing up more days. That too would be another way the government is hurting the economy.


The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by

About the author

Joe Scudder

Joe Scudder

Joe Scudder is the "nom de plume" (or "nom de guerre") of a fifty-ish-year-old writer and stroke survivor. He lives in St Louis with his wife and still-at-home children. He has been a freelance writer and occasional political activist since the early nineties. He describes his politics as Tolkienesque.

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