NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The Value of a Summer Job

June 20, 2014

The New York Times reports that fewer American teenagers are engaged in the workforce.

  • Since 1948, an average 40 percent of American teenagers were in the labor force. While that number dropped to 37 percent in the mid-1960s, it reached a high of 48.5 percent in 1979.
  • In 2000, 45 percent of 16- to 19-year-olds were in the labor force. At this point, the number began steadily dropping.
  • In 2013, just one quarter of Americans ages 16 to 19 were in the workforce.
  • For minority teenagers, the numbers are even worse: only 17 percent of 16- to 19-year-old African Americans were employed in 2013.

These trends remain steady when looking only at summertime employment, which is unfortunate, because according to research, teenagers who work in high school have wages 10 to 15 percent higher than their peers after college graduation.

Why the drop? Many teenagers are simply unable to find jobs today. Additionally, more students are enrolling in summer school and pre-college programs as well as playing year-round sports. Other students put their time towards volunteer work or in unpaid internships with the goal of building their resumes.

John Challenger of outplacement company Challenger, Gray and Christmas is concerned about the drop in real work experience: "A lot of kids are missing out by not learning what working is. They're also missing the process of job hunting. Part of the experience is developing persistence and the all-important skills of shaking hands, answering questions clearly and looking someone in the eye."

Source: Alina Tugend, "If a Teenager Lands a Summer Job, the Value Is Lasting," New York Times, June 13, 2014.


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