It used to be that a summer job was a teenage rite of passage. Slinging ice cream, tearing tickets at the movies, and working a grocery store checkout were all gigs that were easy to get for a few months’ worth of cash.
But recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that last summer marks another in the declining trend of teenage summer work. In fact, in 2016, only 43 percent of teens in the U.S. had a summer job. That’s down from the high of 72 percent of American teens ages 16-19 who worked in the month of July in 1978, when the numbers peaked. But why the drop?
School Is Harder Than It Used to Be
Not only do stats show that more teens are enrolled in school, but have you seen homework these days? And according to the BLS, more teens take summer school classes, as a way to boost their academics, or get ahead a bit over their college competition:
More teens attend school during the summer now than in previous years. The proportion of teenagers enrolled in July 2016 was more than 4 times higher than it was in July 1985—42.1 percent versus 10.4 percent.
And of course, there are advanced AP courses, more homework assignments, clubs, sports, and a host of extracurriculars that teens put themselves through under the pressure to excel in all things.
“Dedicating more time to studies may leave less time for participation in the labor force,” notes the BLS report. So there’s that.
Teens aren't working at summer jobs as much as they used to, but don't blame laziness.
It’s Impossible to Pay for College With Summer Jobs
If the average summer job pays minimum wage, that might be as low as $7.25 an hour, depending on your state. That means, a teen working a full-time summer gig would only make $290 a week before taxes. That’s $1,160 per month, and even if you squeaked out two months worth of work between spring and fall classes, that’s only $2,320 for the summer (minus taxes and whatever expenses or chocolate malteds you spend it on).
If you’re in a summer job for making college tuition, that likely won’t cut it. The College Board notes that in-state tuition and fees at a four-year, public college or university averaged $9,648 in 2016.
The Competition Is Stiff
The age of the average American worker has gone up, and that means more competition for jobs that might have been open for teens. In 2016, the Pew Research Center noted: “More older Americans – those ages 65 and older – are working than at any time since the turn of the century, and today’s older workers are spending more time on the job than did their peers in previous years.”
On NPR recently, Ben Steverman of Bloomberg concurred with these findings:
Older people are healthier and can work longer, and a lot of them need to work longer. And they can end up being much more reliable employees than a teenager who’s never had a job before. So if you look at retail, even things like delivering of newspapers, a lot of that’s being done by people who are in their late 60s and 70s.
Tell Us What You Think
Are you a teen looking for a summer job? Tell us about your experiences in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.