NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

A Teen with a Job Becomes a Rarity in U.S. Economy

May 7, 2012

With summer approaching and the job market showing signs of improvement, teens could have a better shot at getting hired than they have had in years.  But it could take many more years for teens to resume working at pre-recession levels, says

  • Only about 25 percent of 16- to 19-year-olds are currently working, a drop of 10 percentage points from just five years ago, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • The percentage of teenagers who have jobs, expressed as the ratio of employment to population, hovered between 40 and 50 percent for much of the 1980s and 1990s.
  • The percentage began dropping about a decade ago, but the declines have been especially steep since the beginning of the Great Recession in late 2007.

Part of the issue is that fewer teens either want to work or think they can get a job.  The labor force participation rate, which measures both teens who are working and those actively seeking work, also has fallen sharply since 2000.

The job market is unquestionably difficult for all teens, but experts say it's especially hard for those who may need the money most: Teens from poor families and families in which a parent is out of work.  Andrew Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University, says the disparity is partly because many kids get jobs through family and community connections such as parents, neighbors or relatives.

Other research backs up that disparity.

  • Algernon Austin, director of the race, ethnicity and the economy program at the Economic Policy Institute, last year analyzed 2009 data on teens who were not attending school.
  • He found that 16- to 19-year-olds from poor families, whose income was below the poverty line, were less likely to be working than teens whose families had more money.
  • That was true regardless of race or ethnicity.

Source: Allison Linn, "A Teen with a Job Becomes a Rarity in U.S. Economy,", May 3, 2012.

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