Summer jobs elude teenagers

07.25.12 Thumbnail BrokeTeenThe summertime job for teens is becoming a thing of the past. Teenagers are less employed now than any other time in the past 70 years.

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07.25.12 Blog BrokeTeenThe summertime job for teenagers is becoming a thing of the past. Teenagers are less employed now than any other time in the past 70 years, as they face competition from older workers and focus on their studies in the wake of the recession.

According to Oregon state employment economist Nick Beleiciks, three out of 10 Oregon teens ages 16 to 19 who would like a job cannot find one. That is three times the rate of the overall workforce.

If employment numbers are a sign of long-term prospects, then the future outlook for Oregon’s teens looks grim. In 2006, more than 50,000 teenagers got new jobs. In 2009-2011, that number was under 30,000. “There’s a lot of concern about this, but I’m not sure it’s set in stone,” says Beleiciks. “The question is, what are they doing when not working?” He adds that though the recession greatly exacerbated teen unemployment numbers, teens have steadily worked less in the past decade.

According to Christopher Smith of the Federal Reserve Board, though the shift towards more education and other activities does account for some of the teen unemployment numbers, “the share of adults in teen jobs ‘explains’ at least half of the total drop in youth employment.”

Some sectors that traditionally hire teens, such as food services, were not hugely affected by the recession, but still dramatically cut teen hiring. Food services in Oregon hired less than half the amount of teens in 2011 than in 2007 (ages 14 to 18), suggesting competition from older and more experienced workers. Conversely, crop production, also not hit by the recession, hired more teens in 2011 that in 2007.

Though teens as a group are suffering, it is especially hard for those from lower-income backgrounds to secure employment. Joan Gralla of Reuters writes that nationally one in five teenagers with family incomes below $20,000 a year were hired last summer versus a 41 percent employment rate among those from families annual incomes of $100,000 to $150,000. Smith notes in his report that part of the reason some teens spend more time studying and doing other extracurricular activities is that those teens get money from their parents.

In an April 2012 report by Beleiciks and Jennifer Nelson, they noted: “All age groups were damaged to some extent by the recession, but the effects on young workers could have much longer-term consequences. The workforce problems facing younger workers today may follow them well into the future through lower lifetime earnings. Getting younger workers to work, and establishing the experience and income that first jobs provide, is one of the key workforce challenges facing Oregon.”

Peter Beland is a contributing writer to Oregon Business.