The era of the teen summer gig may be coming to an end even as unemployment drops below 4.4 percent for the first time in 16 years and the American economy booms. In the wake of a May jobs report that showed falling labor-force participation rate overall, kids aren’t exactly rushing to sign W-9s by the end of June. And, no, generational sloth is not behind the drop in summer work. Evidence indicates that today’s teens are working harder than ever–just not at the local ice cream stand.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, teen participation in the seasonal workforce is plummeting. That’s in spite of surveys of summer seasonal employment which suggest more business owners than ever are planning on adding jobs. In fact, the outlook for kids taking summer employment is so dire that the percentage of teens in the labor force is expected to hit a new low of 27 percent in 2024, a number that is starkly different (though not necessarily worse) than the 60 percent posted in the late 1980s.
Several factors are linked to the decline. The first is that teens are being crowded out by younger boomers who refuse to retire. The second is that minimum wage jobs really don’t make much of a dent in the college costs summer jobs once defrayed. In other words, there’s not much motivation to hustle for minimum wage of $7.25 when the average private university cost $33,480 a year. Finally, there are more and more very motivated immigrants who are willing to take the wage to survive.
Finally, it appears that even though teens aren’t working hard at the fryolator, they are working hard at the trigonometry books. As summer employment has declined, involvement in summer education and enrichment programs has seen a steady increase. Meaning that it’s not just the summer job that’s on the outs, but maybe even summer, full stop. At least that’s the case for around 40 percent of 16- to 19-year-olds, who BLS statistics indicate are enrolled in summer school.
All of which is to say that the days of working at the burger shack over summer break for gas money to cruise down to the lake on a July evening are long gone. Teens don’t need money in the short-term, they need to plan for a future in which they make choices designed to pay down debt.