Study: Teen Employment is Appallingly Low, a “Great Depression”

Posted: Aug 31, 2013 5:00 PM

Or so said an economist from Northeastern University. Still, only about three in 10 teenagers this past summer were able to find gainful employment, according to a recent McClatchy study -- a shocking trend that should have lawmakers on Capitol Hill more than a little concerned:

For the fourth consecutive summer, teen employment has stayed anchored around record lows, prompting experts to fear that a generation of youth is likely to be economically stunted with lower earnings and opportunities in years ahead.

The trend is all the more striking given that the overall unemployment rate has steadily dropped, to 7.4 percent in August. And employers in recent months have been collectively adding almost 200,000 new jobs a month. It led to hopes that this would be the summer when teen employment improved.

In 1999, slightly more than 52 percent of teens 16 to 19 worked a summer job. By this year, that number had plunged to about 32.25 percent over June and July. It means that slightly more than three in 10 teens actually worked a summer job, out of a universe of roughly 16.8 million U.S. teens.

“We have never had anything this low in our lives. This is a Great Depression for teens,and no time in history have we encountered anything like that,” said Andrew Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston. “That’s why it’s such an important story.”

This is worrisome news, to say the least. If teenagers aren’t working and gaining valuable skills that will (hopefully) help them later in life, what exactly are they doing? Meanwhile, of course, this news is particularly heartbreaking for African-Americans teenagers, many of whom are looking for jobs but simply can’t find them:

Summer is traditionally the peak period of employment for teens as they are off from school and get their first brush with employment and the responsibilities that come with it. Falling teen employment, however, is just as striking in the 12-month numbers over the past decade.

The picture these teen employment statistics provide looks even worse when viewed through the complex prism of race. Sum and colleagues did just that, comparing June and July 2000 and the same two months of 2013. In 2000, 61.28 percent of white teens 16 to 19 held a job, a number that fell to 39.25 percent this summer. For African-Americans, a number that was dismal in 2000, 33.91 percent of 16 to 19 year olds holding a job, fell to a staggering low of 19.25 percent this June and July.

Minimum-wage workers nationwide are famously on strike these days, arguing for (and demanding) untenable wage increases. But at least they have a job, no? Eighty percent of African American teenagers were unemployed last summer. And by the way, if these workers’ demands are met (which I’m not actually sure will happen), don’t be surprised when black unemployment rises even higher next year:

Recommended Townhall Video