NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

U.S. Teens Can't Find Jobs

June 17, 2013

While the overall job market is showing improvement, the employment prospects for teens looking for summer work remain unusually bleak, with one-in-four job-hunting teens idle. Though the economy is rebounding, the teen unemployment rate has remained virtually unchanged over the past two years, says USA Today.

Teen unemployment was 24.5 percent last month, more than triple the national jobless rate of 7.6 percent, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports.

  • Those unemployment rates reflect only those people who are actively looking for work, not those who have given up or never looked in the first place.
  • Joblessness among teens ages 16 to 19 traditionally is far greater than the national average, but their current unemployment rate is "really high," says Diana Carew, an economist for the Progressive Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.
  • Employment rates for teens "started to drop precipitously" in 2000, Carew says, "then the recession exacerbated the trend."

Economists say the trend is driven by a still slow economy in which older adults and people in their early- to mid-20s compete with teens for low-level jobs.

  • The difficulty in getting a decent paying job is causing many teens to opt out of paid work altogether and instead pursue unpaid internships, summer school and volunteer opportunities.
  • A cultural shift in work ethic also could be partially to blame, says Clark Hodges, a financial strategist for the Dallas-based investment advisory firm Hodges Capital Management. "The way (teens) have grown up, they've always been handed things," he says. "They don't have the incentive or drive to work. That may be a generalization, but I think it's a big factor."
  • Only a third of teenagers between the ages of 16 and 19 look for paid work today, according to BLS data. Half of working-age teens participated in the labor force during the late 1990s.

Although summer school enrollment may contribute to the decrease, the number of teens who are neither in school nor working is also on the rise.

Source: Brittany Hargrave, "Wanted (Sorta): Summer Jobs for Teens," USA Today, June 11, 2013.


Browse more articles on Economic Issues