NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Tough Summer for Jobless Teens

September 7, 2011

Summer's unofficial end closed out a dismal season for working teenagers.

  • The unemployment rate for 16- to 19-year-olds ticked up to 25.4 percent in August from 25 percent the previous month, the Labor Department said last week.
  • For black teens, unemployment leaped to 46.5 percent from 39.2 percent in July.
  • Equally disconcerting: the jobless rate for teens of all races has hovered around 25 percent all summer each of the past three years, marking the worst such stretch on records back to 1948.
  • Summer teenage unemployment averaged 13 percent in 2000 and 15.8 percent as recently as 2007.

The prolonged slump has serious implications for America's future adult workers.  Summer jobs are critical for teaching youths "soft skills," such as how to deal with customers and managers, says Michael Saltsman, research fellow at the Employment Policies Institute.

  • A 1995 study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found high school seniors who worked 20 hours a week can expect to earn 21 percent more in annual salary and 11 percent higher hourly wages six to nine years later.
  • Yet just 29.6 percent of all teens worked this summer, tying last year's all-time low.
  • In 2000, more than half of teens worked.

To help working youths, Saltsman says the federal government should give employers more flexibility to pay them as much as $3 below the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.  Now, such a "training wage" can only be paid for 90 days.

Source: Paul Davidson, "Summer Ends on Sour Note for Jobless Teens," USA Today, September 6, 2011.

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