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Friday, August 2, 2013

Summer Slump: Teens Struggle To Find Jobs

Some teens are able to find summer work as lifeguards. (mattwitmer/Flickr)

Some teens are able to find summer work as lifeguards. (mattwitmer/Flickr)

Young people continue to suffer in the current job market.

A new job report out today shows teen employment remained stagnant from June to July, and there’s been no increase over last year.

Dr. Andrew Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University, says a big part of the problem is that federal programs supporting summer job programs have disappeared.

He says that in the late 1990s, those programs employed one million teens. Today, they have essentially evaporated.

The closer you are to the bottom of the economic ladder, the harder it is to find a job, Sum says.

And while middle and upper class kids have networks to help them find jobs, poorer and minority teens don’t have that support, and have a much higher unemployment rate.




Well, one of the groups that is not faring well in today's jobs report is teenagers. The Labor Department shows that in July, only about 33 percent of 16- to 19-year-olds were employed. That is basically unchanged from a year ago, and it's a whopping 20 percentage points lower than we were in 2000, when 53 percent of teens were working. So what happened to spending the summer lifeguarding or flipping burgers? Economics professor Andy Sum is director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University, and he's with us here in the studio. Welcome.

ANDREW SUM: Oh, thank you, Jeremy.

HOBSON: Well, first of all what has happened since 2000 to make the number of teens working in the summer drop so dramatically?

SUM: Well, actually, Jeremy, a large part of this situation we've been observing is due to really macro labor market developments, which have substantially reduced total overall employment for everybody. And teenagers have always been at the back of the hiring queue when it comes, and the younger you are, the less likely it is that you get a job when things are tough.

But what's different this time around is we've never seen such a massive decline in the employment rate of young people, but it's part of a longer trend, Jeremy, in which basically what I call the great age twist. I've written on this several times. Over the last 13 years, the United States, for everybody under the age of 57, you are less likely to be working today than you were in 2000, and everybody over 57 is more likely.

HOBSON: Why is that?

SUM: Well, what - just one last thing.

HOBSON: Yeah, sure.

SUM: Basically what you find, Jeremy, is that the younger you are, however, the more likely it is that you got thrown out of the labor market. So as you go down the age range, what you find is 16-, 17-, 18-year-olds have basically been almost completely thrown out, 60 percent decline in employment for 16-year-olds.

Again, it has to do with the fact that when older workers like the boomers like me are staying in longer, staying at work, working, you got a lot of young adults, 20 to 24, with college degrees who can't find a job in their major field of study. So they're competing with them.

You've also got other young adults, not college educated but looking for a job, can't get hired in the career labor market, get bumped down and bump young people out. And a number of employers have reacted by just basically telling me that they won't even oftentimes look at anybody under the age of 18.

HOBSON: And what kind of jobs are we talking about? Does this stretch across all sectors, or are you talking about the kinds of summer jobs that I mentioned, even, you know, lifeguarding, working at the pool, flipping burgers at a fast food restaurant?

SUM: Those are the only jobs basically that have held up. I mean, they've - don't get me wrong, they've experienced big declines. But if you were a teenager, like I was, when I was a teenager, I worked in manufacturing. I worked at U.S. Steel from the time I was 18 to the time I was 23. I had a retail trade job with the union when I was 17. I delivered papers before that.

Today you almost find nobody working in summers in manufacturing anymore. So young people have been basically thrown out of manufacturing, construction, transportation, utilities, information services, professional services. And they've had a very difficult time, by the way, getting even into like health services, which kind of amazed me because we talk about, you know, the greater opportunity there.

So young kids are basically confined to three sectors: fast food, retail trade, and things like you were talking about, the lifeguard, entertainment industry.

HOBSON: And what is that doing because there have got to be long-term implications if people are starting out in this way, not getting the same kinds of jobs that were available a generation ago?

SUM: It's not only just the summer, though. It's a year-round phenomenon. So young people aren't working year-round, they're not working in the summer. And it does, like you said, have a number of adverse consequences. I would say the four most important are, one, is that the less you work when you're 16, 17, 18, the less you work when you're in your late teens and early 20s. That's very clear. We call it path dependency in the literature.

The second thing is the less you work, when you go to get a job, Jeremy, the employer is less likely to train you because he doesn't trust you. You don't have enough experience. I'm not going to invest in you when you don't have much experience you bring to the job. The more experience you bring to the job the better paid you are.

And the fourth thing which you generally find is that people who manage to work are far less likely to get involved in criminal activity, delinquent activity, far less like likely to be dependent on the government to support themselves. So you and I also benefit from having young people work today. The more employable you are, the more taxes they pay, the fewer transfers they receive.

HOBSON: And that's one reason why many cities around the country try to keep young people at least busy during the days in the summer when they're out of school. It keeps crime rates down. What is happening around the country with summer jobs programs?

SUM: Well nationally we used to have a summer jobs program for economically disadvantaged youth that went out after 2000. We revived it one year in 2009, the DRA. Congress could not agree to continue that. So we have no federal jobs program for low-income kids.

And the saddest thing about that, Jeremy, the fact is if you're a low-income kid, you are the least likely to work in the summer, and if you are a low-income black kid, the likelihood you work in the summer is only like about six to seven percent.

So what we have is kind of, when you think about it, the most warped distribution you could think of. The lower income you are, the less likely you live in a family with mom and dad that work, the less likely you are to work. The higher your income, until you get to the very top, the greater is the likelihood that you work.

HOBSON: And you're not learning how to manage a paycheck, how to keep track of your money and develop habits that are going to serve you for the rest of your life.

SUM: Exactly, and you also don't develop the soft skills that many employers say our young kid are missing. What I've always argued, though, is how do you and I develop good soft skills? By working. And if we don't work, you can't develop it. But if you don't develop good soft skills, you lack the communications skills, learning how to get along.

I mean if you just walk up and down the street, I don't mean to be harsh, take a look up and down the street. You see every kid looking at their iPad or their smartphone, ignoring everyone. I mean basically what you have is you don't have young people work with adults, don't have the habits to communicate with adults. I think we lose big, and that's why I've been on this kind of national campaign, let's put America's kids back to work.

HOBSON: Are people hearing you? I mean, we are hearing today about an unemployment rate dropping to 7.4 percent. There are going to a lot of newspapers and headlines today that say things are getting better, this is the best unemployment rate since December of 2008.

SUM: They are getting better for some people, for teenagers nothing. You look at that report very clearly, Jeremy, and one thing stands out: We created 225,000 jobs last month for everybody. Do you know how many teens got? Zero. In the last - since the end of 2009, we've created five and a half million jobs in this country. Do you know how many teens - how many of those jobs teens got? Minus 44,000, first time ever kids have gotten not one of the jobs we've generated since we began to recover from the recession in 2007.

HOBSON: Andrew Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University, speaking with us about the dire employment situation for teens. Thank you so much.

SUM: Thank you.


I'm going to jump in to say that we were getting virtual cheers for everything you just said on our Facebook page. Here are some of comments. Cindy Scott Day(ph) writes: No job for my high school graduate, and now he's going off to college. Lynette Fitch Blaire's(ph) son has an almost job, as a counselor in training. He doesn't get paid, but she says at least he's going to get some room and board and maybe have a better chance of getting the job next year. So people taking non-paying jobs, young people, so that maybe they can get in the pipeline.

Jen Russo(ph) sent us something of a resume. She's got a teen daughter who's reliable, a hard worker, National Honor Society, field hockey goalie, only got one interview, just one. The mother says something's wrong here. And Emily Rushburger(ph) writes her son started looking for a job back in December and was able to get a paid internship, but it was work starting in December to get the job. So a lot of reaction, Jeremy, to this idea that we've got to start thinking about this.

HOBSON: Let us know what you think at, you can also go to We'll be back in a minute, HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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