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Teen summer employment gains on the decline

May saw a slow start to the traditional hiring season

Photo (c) Lisa F. Young - Fotolia
Teenagers are finding jobs this summer, but not as many as they used to.

According to an analysis of the latest government data by outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, employment among 16- to 19-year-olds increased by 156,000 in May -- a drop of 14% from last year.

Over the previous five years an average of 1,259,200 teens were added to the workforce between May 1 and July 31. While May typically experiences the smallest hiring gains of the three-month period, this was the slowest start to the summer hiring season since 2011, when just 71,000 teenagers found jobs in May.

“Low hiring in May does not necessarily portend an overall drop in summer hiring,” said John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas. “In 2007, just 62,000 teenagers found employment in May, but total job gains for the summer exceeded 1.6 million. However, the general trend in summer employment among teens has been downward and that trend has been going on since the late 1970s,” .

Challenger said numerous factors have contributed to the decline of teen employment. “Economic downturns certainly played a role in accelerating the trend,” he noted, adding, “it is hardly the only factor. Even the relatively high-flying 1990s saw the number of working teens fall.”

A worrisome trend

Since the 1970s, the number of manufacturing and other skilled blue-collar jobs have disappeared, along with other semi-skilled jobs that could be shipped overseas, such as call center jobs. Americans who might have gravitated toward these opportunities were pushed down the ladder into lower-skilled, lower-paying service jobs that were once dominated by teenagers.

“Teens were basically pushed out of the market,” said Challenger. “They continue to have opportunities in the classic summer job settings, such as summer camps, neighborhood pools, amusement parks, etc. However, the number of these jobs is not really growing. We don’t see a dozen new amusement parks or summer camps start up every year. Meanwhile, restaurants and retail outlets are still hiring teens, but not as many as in the past, because they simply don’t need as many workers to meet seasonal demand.”

Challenger said there is mounting evidence that teens are not pursuing traditional summer jobs like they used to. “Many are enrolled in summer educational programs. More are volunteering. And, others are pursuing money-making opportunities that fall below the radar of standard employment measures, such as unpaid internships or entrepreneurial ventures.”  

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