The death of the character-building teen summer job

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Remember your first summer job when you were a teenager? Perhaps it was scooping ice cream, or doing back-breaking yard work, or washing dishes at Wendy’s all summer long (just for an example.) As your parents told you, it taught you the meaning of work.

Well, that’s all gone by the wayside. Only a third (34.6%) of teenagers had a summer job last year, according to Pew Research Center’s latest analysis of federal employment data.

Two decades ago, about 50% of American teenagers worked at least part of their summer vacation. But since 2000, that number has gone steadily downhill, even with some recovery in jobs since the Great Recession ended.


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There are some trends within the trend: white teenagers are more likely than nonwhite teens to be employed during the summer. Last summer, says Pew, the summer employment rate for 16-to-19-year-old whites was 37.5%, versus 28.9% for Hispanics, and 25.8% for African-Americans.

Ultimately, the decline of the teen summer job is a “specific instance of a broader long-term decline in overall youth employment, a trend that’s also been observed in other advanced economies.”

There are a variety of theories why: fewer low-skill, entry-level jobs available than in past decades, schools going longer into the summer, more students enrolled in summer classes, more students doing volunteer or types of programs that will look good on their resume come college-application time, and more students participating in unpaid internships.

With more pressure to get a jump on college, that leaves less time to jump out of bed early and get yourself to that summer job.