Why Don’t Teenagers Want Summer Jobs Anymore?

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In his 1958 hit single “Summertime Blues,” rock-and-roller Eddie Cochran threatened to raise a ruckus “About workin’ all summer / Just-a trying to earn a dollar.”

Chances are that today he wouldn’t have anything to complain about, because he wouldn’t have been workin’ in the first place.

According to a Pew Research Center analysis of federal employment data, only about a third of U.S. teens had a job last summer, whereas two decades ago, roughly half of them found summertime employment — and there’s no reason to think the numbers will improve this year.

From the late 1940s, when data on the subject first started being recorded, through the 1980s, the Pew Center found, the employment rate for 16-to-19-year-olds fluctuated between 46% and 58%. The rate fell sharply during the recessions of 2001 and 2007-2009, and while teen summer employment has increased slightly since then, it still hasn’t reached pre-recession levels — even in the American cities adding the most jobs overall.

What accounts for the low employment rate? The Pew study suggests that the factors include the fact that there are fewer entry-level jobs (sales clerk, office assistant) than in previous decades; the shortening of summer vacation periods, with more schools ending classes in late June and/or resuming them before Labor Day; an increase in summer school enrollment; a rise in unpaid internships — which the Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t count as employment; and a larger number of students undertaking volunteer community service work to fulfill graduation requirements or add heft to their college applications. The last of these factors might well be focused in the states that volunteer the most.

Though it’s too early to compute statistics for the summer of ‘19, Pew’s analysis notes that for overall non-seasonal employment, the number of teens employed as of May was down slightly from last year, and that while there are more working-age teens today than there were in 2000 — 16.7 million, as opposed to 15.9 million — far fewer of them are actually working. As of last month, 5.6 million had jobs; in May 2000, the number was 8.1 million. This may not be surprising considering the fact that some typical summer jobs are among the lowest paying in America