Teens’ Summer Job Outlook is Bleak

Articles, Medill Reports

Published by the Northwest Indiana Times and Medill Reports

By Christina Maria Paschyn

March 7, 2007

NOW HIRING signs might abound this summer, but if you’re a teenager, your chances for landing a job are slim.  Child labor laws and competition from older students and other workers may be the reasons.

A majority of teens want to work this summer, but businesses are reluctant to hire them, according to a survey conducted by Teens4Hire.org, a California-based teen job Web site.

The survey polled 1,000 teenagers ages 14 to 19 years old.  A press release stated that when the organization polled businesses that have traditionally hired youths in the past, most were reluctant to say they will have summer openings teens could fill.

“The human resource people were quick to say, we don’t hire teens,” said David Craig, a staff member of Teens4Hire.org.  “And after I pointed out that 18 and 19 year olds were teenagers they’d say, well, we don’t hire minors.”

Ellie Mialkowski, a 17-year-old student at Valpariso High School in Indiana, said her friends have faced a similar employment stituation.

“Well, most of my friends have applied to a lot of the fast food places and most of them don’t respond,” she said.  “And the people who apply to hardware stores, they don’t hire teens regularly, so a lot of my friends work for their family members and that’s about all they can do.”

The study’s conclusions are not surprising.  Summer employment for teens has diminished over the past few years, hitting an all time low of 36.4 percent in 2004, according to the Current Population Surveys (CPS), a monthly national household survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau for the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That compared with a July-August average teen employment rate of 45.2 percent in 2000.

Last summer the employment rate rose to 37.7 percent, as an average of 8.5 million 16-to-19-year-olds either worked or looked for a job.

According to a September 2006 report by the Center for Labor Market Statistics at Northeastern University, teens were more adversely affected than any other demographic group by the national recession of 2001 and the “jobless recovery” of 2002-2003.  But despite national job boosts since the fall of 2003, teenage employment has not greatly improved.

The report cited increased job competition from newer immigrants, older workers aged 55 and over, college students home for the summer and young college graduates unable to obtain jobs in their majors as contributing factors.

But Renee Ward, the founder of Teens4Hire.org, believes businesses might be hesitating to hire teenagers because of child labor laws, which restrict the number of hours and types of jobs a teen can perform.

Teens ages 14 to 15 can work only 40 hours per week in the summer.  Sixteen and 17-year-olds can work an unlimited numbers per week, but both age groups are prohibited from working in “hazardous” jobs, such as meat-packing, construction and truck driving.

“There are other jobs teenagers can do,” Ward said.  “We just have to remind business that teenagers are not numb nuts; they want to work and they’re just getting a bad rep about being lazy, having a sense of entitlement or just not being prepared.  But people have to give them a shot.”

The report also found a considerable employment difference across four major race-ethnic groups–Asians, blacks, Hispanics and whites.  White teens had the highest employment rate last summer, 51 percent, nearly double the 27 percent for blacks and 26.9 percent for Asian teens.  One in every three Hispanic teens worked last summer.

This held true for teenagers from differing household income levels.  Contrary to general expectations, teens from affluent families are more likely to seek and find employment during the summer months than low income youths.

Teens from families with annual incomes below $20,000 had a summer employment rate of only 32 percent, versus 45 percent for teens with family incomes between $40,000 and $60,000 and 52 percent for teens from families with incomes above $75,000.

Still, white teens in each income category were more likely to find work than their Asian, black and Hispanic counterparts.

Male teenagers also had a slightly higher unemployment rate, 17.3 percent, than females,15.6 percent.

“Work experience at this stage in life is critical, and people who spend a large share of their young adult years unemployed have a hard time finding and keeping a job later in life,” said Ward.

Indeed, the Northeastern University study found that teenagers who worked while in high school were more likely to be employed after they graduated.  Teenage work experience also had a high payoff in terms of determining the salaries of young adults in their early to mid-20s.

Ward said summer jobs have educational value, too.

“Teens are basically looking for more opportunities beyond fast food and retail, and the business community has just not been aggressive in going after youth workers,” she said. “They want meaningful jobs; they want to work in resorts, law firms and doctor offices.  This is a great way for teens to begin to network, which they can then supplement to figure out what classes they need to take in order to pursue that career.”

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