Bloomberg: “Why Aren’t American Teenagers Working Anymore?”

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Good piece on Bloomberg about why teenagers in the U.S. are working fewer summer jobs. Some excerpts:

For Baby Boomers and Generation X, the summer job was a rite of passage. Today’s teenagers have other priorities. Teens are likeliest to be working in July, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that’s not seasonally adjusted. In July of last year, 43 percent of 16- to 19-year-olds were either working or looking for a job. That’s 10 points lower than in July 2006. In 1988 and 1989, the July labor force participation rate for teenagers nearly hit 70 percent.

Whether you’re looking at summer jobs or at teen employment year-round, the work trends for teenagers show a clear pattern over the last three decades. When recessions hit, in the early 1990s, early 2000s, and from 2007 to 2009, teen labor participation rates plunge. As the economy recovers, though, teen labor doesn’t bounce back. The BLS expects the teen labor force participation rate to drop below 27 percent in 2024, or 30 points lower than the peak seasonally adjusted rate in 1989.

Why aren’t teens working? Lots of theories have been offered: They’re being crowded out of the workforce by older Americans, now working past 65 at the highest rates in more than 50 years. Immigrants are competing with teens for jobs; a 2012 study found that less educated immigrants affected employment for U.S. native-born teenagers far more than for native-born adults. Parents are pushing kids to volunteer and sign up for extracurricular activities instead of working, to impress college admission counselors. College-bound teens aren’t looking for work because the money doesn’t go as far as it used to. “Teen earnings are low and pay little toward the costs of college,” the BLS noted this year. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. Elite private universities charge tuition of more than $50,000.

Or maybe, as cranky old people have asserted for generations, teenagers are just getting lazy.

High school students aren’t just taking more classes. They’re taking tougher ones. What’s happened in math reflects trends in other areas. Calculus is up threefold since the early 1980s, while precalculus is up more than fivefold, and statistics and probability courses are up tenfold. Almost a million students graduated in 2009 having taken an advanced placement (AP) class, up 39 percent from four years earlier.

All this studying has obvious benefits, but a single-minded focus on education has disadvantages, too. A summer job can help teenagers grow up as it expands their experience beyond school and home. Working teens learn how to manage money, deal with bosses, and get along with co-workers of all ages.

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