It’s not that teens can’t get jobs. The unemployment rate for 16- to 19-year-olds has slowly fallen in recent years, after it neared 30 percent in 2009 and 2010. Still, with little to no work experience, teens have always had a harder time finding jobs.
The unemployment rate, however, takes into account only Americans who are looking for work – and most teenagers don’t bother. The labour force participation rate, which measures the share of teens in the workforce, started tumbling years before the recession.
In July, 35.2 percent of teenagers were working or looking for work. By contrast, as recently as 2001, more than half of teens were participating in the labour force.
What are teenagers doing instead? One theory among experts is that over the last decade, kids and their parents have become more intent on building their résumés for future careers than on making cash over the summer.
An $8-an-hour summer job will barely make a dent in college costs, which have risen far faster than inflation. But teens might have a leg up getting into college and qualifying for scholarships if they spend their summers volunteering, taking test-preparation classes, or heading off to specialised camps, all of which can make it hard to have a job.
Past studies have found that summer jobs for teenagers can reduce crime and boost future earnings, though researchers have also found that the economic rewards of work during high school have fallen over the past 20 years.
If teens and their families can spare the extra cash now, they may decide that they have more productive ways to spend their summers than babysitting and mowing lawns.